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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Polish Parliament Eases Abortion Law

WARSAW -- Poland's lower house of parliament voted Friday to liberalize the country's abortion law, letting women end pregnancies before the 12th week if they are too poor to raise a child or have other personal problems.


The left-dominated house voted by 208-to-61 with 15 abstentions in favor of the amendments to the restrictive 1993 anti-abortion law, despite a desperate campaign against the change by the Roman Catholic Church and its political allies.


The present law, passed under a center-right government, allows abortions only if pregnancy threatens a woman's life or health, results from rape or incest, or when the foetus is irreparably damaged.


Parliament passed similar amendments in 1994, but they were vetoed by the then-president Lech Walesa, a devout Catholic.


Walesa lost elections last year to ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, who has said he will sign the new law after it passes the Senate -- which is unlikely to present obstacles.


It will take effect 30 days after that, probably this year.


But several deputies said their votes had been wrongly recorded by parliament's computerized system and deputy speaker Marek Borowski said he would consider a possible recount.


Supporters of the change say the current law causes many tragedies, including bungled back-street abortions or abandoned babies. There has been a thriving business in abortion tours to neighboring countries for those women with money.


But the church equates abortion with killing and the vote will come as a blow to Polish-born Pope John Paul II.


Earlier this week Poland's Primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, declared that those who supported the measure were excluding themselves from the community of the faithful.


"There is no place for them at the altar unless they reconcile themselves with God," he declared at a mass pilgrimage in Poland's holiest shrine at Czestochowa.


Although 90 percent of Poles are formally Catholics, surveys suggest a majority favor liberalization.


But hundreds of thousands of letters poured into parliament against the bill and about 2,000 people, some in tears, prayed outside its building on Thursday for it to be stopped.


The measure provides terminations free of charge for women who meet the specified conditions but contains safeguards to prevent a return to the routine use of abortions, freely available before the 1989 fall of communism.


Women applying due to so-called social reasons have to first undergo counseling and three days for reflection.


In a late amendment, the bill extends the 12-week limit, beyond which abortions are banned, to pregnancies caused by incest or rape.


The bill enforces sex education in schools from September 1997, although critics charged that these lessons will lack moral guidance.


The vote split the ruling leftist coalition, with the larger ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance backing the move and some members of the smaller Peasant party siding with pro-church opposition parties against it.