Polish parliament starts work on further restricting abortion

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s parliament has started work on a new abortion law, in the conservative government second bid to tighten rules that are already among Europe’s toughest.

The lower house voted late on Wednesday to send the bill to a parliamentary committee, a victory for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party whose plan for a near-total ban on abortion was rejected after mass protests in 2016.

The new bill would ban abortions due to irreversible damage to the fetus, removing the main legal recourse Polish women have to obtain a termination.

PiS, supported by the powerful Catholic Church, has been pushing to enforce religious values in public life, with the party leader and the country’s paramount politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, long saying that abortions due to damage to a fetus must be outlawed.

Earlier on Wednesday, parliament rejected a proposal to liberalize the abortion law which otherwise only allows the procedure only when the mother’s health or life are in danger or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Of Poland’s 1,100 or so legal abortions in 2016, 1,042 were done due to a damaged fetus.

Kaja Godek, a member of the “Stop Abortion” public initiative that submitted the bill, told parliament that prenatal tests to check a fetus’ health were being misused.

Poland’s constitution allows citizens to submit legislative proposals if they can gather 100,000 signatures.

“Instead of treating and preparing parents and doctors to receive a child and help the child, it is being made easier to make selection for an extermination,” Godek said, according to a parliamentary transcript.

A poll conducted for the Rzeczpospolita newspaper found only 11 percent of Poles were in favor of further restricting abortion laws, while 46.5 percent would like to see them eased.

A group of conservative lawmakers has asked the Constitutional Tribunal, a body that checks whether laws comply with the constitution, to rule on the legality of allowing abortions of a damaged fetus. The Tribunal has yet to rule.

Addtional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Robin Pomeroy