Polish parliament votes overwhelmingly to reject total ban on abortion

Polish parliament votes overwhelmingly to reject total ban on abortion

The Polish parliament has voted overwhelmingly to reject proposals for a total ban on abortion.

The proposal had come from a citizens' initiative that gathered some 450,000 signatures, and it set out plans for abortion to be outlawed even in cases of rape, with prison terms for women who ended a pregnancy.

But it was highly unpopular with most Poles, sparking massive street protests by women dressed in black across the nation on Monday.

Many members of the conservative ruling party Law and Justice had initially supported the proposal, and two weeks ago a majority of parliamentarians voted to consider it, sending it to a commission for further study.

But the party backed away from it under massive social pressure, and MPs voted against it 352-58 on Thursday.

The mostly Catholic nation already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with abortion only allowed in rare cases - rape or incest, when the mother's life is in danger or the foetus is badly damaged.

The proposal had been supported by the church.

But many women had voiced fears that the stricter laws could have led doctors to be afraid to perform prenatal tests or that women who suffered miscarriages could start to fall under criminal suspicion.

The outcome of the vote is a blow to the ruling party, which has a core of ultra-conservative Catholic voters that wanted to see further restrictions to the abortion law.

But the party also came to power thanks to centrist voters and young people who were attracted by the party's welfare programme, with its promises to help the poor and even out the vast economic differences of the post-communist era.

Many in that latter group have been taking to the streets in recent days, and opinion polls show the party's support has now fallen to its lowest point since it won elections a year ago.