Polish lawmakers approve payments for women bearing disabled children

WARSAW (Reuters) - The Polish parliament gave preliminary approval on Friday to one-off payments of more than $1,000 for women who give birth to a disabled child, as part of a drive by the conservative government to cut the number of abortions.

The move follows mass protests that forced lawmakers of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to withdraw their initial support in October for draft legislation that would have banned abortion in almost all cases.

Government representatives said the new benefit of 4,000 zlotys ($1,030) was intended to help families that decided to have an disabled child, and the first part of a wider program to be approved by the end of the year.

“This 4,000 zlotys is the first aid, the first step,” said Elzbieta Witek, head of the prime minister’s office.

“So far, no government has ever prepared a comprehensive package of support ... for women with pregnancies with complications.”

Many opposition lawmakers criticized the bill, arguing it was an ideologically-driven policy to reduce the number of abortions, and the planned payment very small in relation to the needs of families with disabled children.

Four thousand zlotys is roughly the average monthly wage in Poland.

“This is a kind of moral bribery for those families that have a dilemma, families who have a moral problem,” Lidia Gadek, a lawmaker from the centrist Civic Platform, told parliament.

During the parliamentary debate on the bill, PiS lawmaker

Piotr Uscinski lobbied for the $1,030 benefit to be extended to cases of children conceived from rape, but his proposal was not approved.

Traditionally Catholic Poland, where the church remains powerful, already has one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the European Union.

Under a 1993 law that ended the liberal approach of the communist era, abortion is allowed in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s health or when prenatal tests show serious and irreversible damage to the fetus.

That stands in sharp contrast with laws in Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, where a significant number of pregnancies end in abortions.

Editing by Andrew Roche