Polish women protest new bids to tighten abortion law

Warsaw (AFP) - Thousands of Polish women on Monday demonstrated nationwide against new bids to tighten the staunchly Catholic country's abortion law, which is already one of the most restrictive in Europe.

During this second edition of the "Women strike" campaign, black-clad protesters carrying umbrellas waved banners protesting against "Church interference in politics" and "the violation of women's rights".

"We're fighting for a secular state, the right to contraception and equal pay among men and women among other things," said an organiser, Kamila Majer, at the Warsaw protest.

"Right now the Church interferes in politics and the law. It blackmails political parties and meddles in things that shouldn't concern it," fellow organiser Bozena Przyluska told AFP.

The first edition of the strike took place on October 3 and saw 100,000 women take to the EU country's streets to protest against a proposed near-total abortion ban.

The citizens' initiative, which the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party had pushed ahead, would have allowed terminations only if the mother's life was at risk and would have also made women who have abortions liable to prison terms.

Poland's parliament wound up rejecting the controversial bill after the protest, though PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski later said his party still hoped to limit abortion access.

"We will strive to ensure that even difficult pregnancies -- when the child is sure to die, severely deformed -- will result in birth so that the child can be baptised, buried and have a name," he told the Polish news agency PAP.

Aleksandra Sekula, a women's rights activist, spoke of the need to keep the protest going.

"We managed to have an absurd initiative killed, so tension fell across the country. But it's precisely now that the government could benefit by passing a new law, maybe one that is less absurd but just as unacceptable," she told AFP.

Passed in 1993, Poland's current abortion law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published earlier this month by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 percent of Poles want to keep the existing law.

An EU country of 38 million people, Poland sees fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women's groups estimate that another 100,000-150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.