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Polish Parliament Relaxes Anti-Abortion Law

June 10, 1994

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Parliament eased Poland’s strict anti-abortion law on Friday to allow women to terminate pregnancies when they are in a difficult personal situation. But President Lech Walesa has already vowed to veto it.

It remains uncertain whether pro-choice deputies can put together the two- thirds majority needed to override a Walesa veto.

In a 241-107 vote with 32 abstentions, the Sejm, the powerful lower chamber, amended a 14-month-old law that allowed abortions only when the pregnancy endangered the mother’s health; resulted from rape or incest, or when the fetus was irreparably damaged.

Doctors who performed illegal abortion faced up to two years in prison.

Barbara Labuda, leader of the Women’s Parliamentary Group, which proposed the amendment last November, said she would lobby for a nationwide referendum on abortion in event of a presidential veto.

She calls existing legislation ″unjust, crime-prone and demoralizing.″

The new regulations call for allowing abortions until the end of the 12th week of the pregnancy, both in state hospitals and private clinics, when the woman ″is in difficult living conditions or a difficult personal situation.″

The conditions were not further specified.

The bill received support mainly from the leftist government coalition. Some right-wing politicians say the leftists want to win more popularity before June 19 municipal elections.

A recent opinion poll indicated that that more than half the population strongly disapproved of the existing tough legislation.

Political parties linked to the Roman Catholic church, which opposes abortion, pushed the 1993 law through parliament. It limited the official number of abortions to 770 in 1993 - in contrast to an average of about 500,000 a year previously, when abortions were available almost on demand.

The real number for 1993 was likely much higher, however. News media have reported existence of a widespread underground abortion network. Also, women who are financially better-off travel abroad to get an abortion.

According to official statistics, the number of natural miscarriages increased significantly last year. Many doctors attribute this to women trying to terminate pregnancies by themselves.

Pro-choice groups have urged introduction of extensive sexual education to schools. Currently, sexual education is taught at biology classes and provides almost no information about contraceptives.

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