Polish lawmakers back plans to end near-total abortion ban, but political showdown awaits

Polish lawmakers backed plans to end the country’s near-total abortion ban on Friday, setting the stage for an eventual showdown on women’s rights between the country’s government and its right-wing president.

Lawmakers in Poland’s parliament voted four different proposals to ease restrictions on abortions through to a further commission stage, after a two-day debate.

The bills include a proposal from Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s party that would legalize abortion up to 12 weeks, a move more in line with some Western European countries.

But any changes are likely to be vetoed by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with the populist former governing party, Law and Justice (PiS).

Poland’s current abortion law, introduced by a PiS-backed court in 2020, bans virtually all abortions. It prompted a huge backlash and its unpopularity with women voters was partially responsible for Tusk’s election victory over PiS last year.

Tusk has pledged to repeal it, but his ruling coalition is split on how to replace the ban. In addition to the 12-week plan, lawmakers on Friday moved forward a rival proposal by the center-right Third Way party that would essentially return abortion laws to how they stood before 2020.

Until then, abortion in the predominately Catholic country had only been allowed under three circumstances: if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, if the mother’s life was at risk, or in the case of fetal abnormalities.

Friday’s votes marked the start of a lengthy legislative process to relax Poland’s current draconian abortion laws, which are among the strictest in Europe.

Should a bill land on Duda’s desk, it will intensify pressure on the outgoing president to agree to change the unpopular current approach. An election to replace Duda will take place in May 2025, and Tusk will be keen to mobilize women voters to support the government-backed candidate.

The issue has also exposed the first serious cracks in Tusk’s governing coalition, which was elected thanks to widespread exasperation with PiS, but which contains lawmakers from across the political spectrum.

Those divisions did not prevent the passage of the four bills Friday, though the Third Way’s proposal received more support than those from Tusk’s party and the from left-wing group Lewica.

Third Way lawmakers have also proposed a referendum on the issue before any change is cemented in law, a further complication that Tusk is opposed to.

Though Poland is a predominantly Catholic country, attitudes towards abortion have softened in recent years and polls show the public does not support the current rules.

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