In a disappointing move, the lower house of parliament in Poland rejected a pro-life bill on Thursday that would have recognized unborn babies’ right to life and banned all abortions.
The BBC reports the members of parliament voted 352 to 58 against the citizen-led bill, which would have prohibited abortions except when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The bill would have criminalized abortion for causing the “death of a conceived child” and penalized those involved in the unborn child’s death.
The strong Catholic country currently prohibits most abortions. In Poland, abortion is legal in cases of rape and incest, the life or health of the mother or severe fetal deformities – though “severe” is widely defined and unborn babies with disabilities like Down syndrome have been legally aborted under the current law.
The rejection came just days after abortion activists staged mass protests in Poland and other parts of Europe. Some of the Czarny Protests, or Black Protests, turned violent. Police in Poland detained seven people for violence and five police officers were injured Monday during the protests, according to Radio Poland. At one point in Warsaw, abortion activists also blocked access to the ruling Law and Justice Party headquarters, Reuters reported.
The BBC speculated that the pro-abortion protests, attended by tens of thousands of people, swayed a number of MPs’ votes on Thursday. Just a few weeks ago, the Polish MPs voted 267 to 154 to support the pro-life measure by moving it to committee for further review.
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In a statement after the vote, ruling Law and Justice Party Leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said: “We are dealing here with a giant misunderstanding. We have the utmost respect for those who signed the proposal (for the abortion ban). But we have come to the conclusion, observing the social situation, that this would be a factor leading to protests.”
Recent polls show that support for the ruling party is dropping, according to the New York Times.
The Wall Street Journal reports more about the party leader’s influence on the vote:
The powerful leader of the socially conservative Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on Thursday threw his weight against the total ban, saying it was a risky proposition that could lead to full access to abortion in the future when the political tide turns.
“What you’re proposing isn’t the right course of action,” he said addressing the bill’s authors. “Considering the situation in the society, what you’re proposing will be a factor that will start processes whose effect will be exactly opposite to what you’re talking about.”
Shortly afterward, the lower house overwhelmingly rejected the proposed bill, with only a fraction voting in favor. …
Some politicians reacted with outrage to what they said was a betrayal of conservative values by Mr. Kaczynski.
Just before the vote, Catholic bishops in Poland also issued a statement announcing that they disagreed with a measure in the bill that would have punished women who have abortions, according to reports. The Catholic leaders emphasized that they do oppose abortion and support legislation that would protect unborn babies’ lives, but women should not be punished.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who previously spoke up in support the pro-life bill, promised that she will work on other ways to protect human life, including offering more government support for families of disabled children and launching an educational campaign to “promote the protection of life.”
The pro-life bill appeared to have strong support from the Polish people. Almost half a million citizens signed the bill, and a recent poll found that 58 percent of Poles support a ban on abortions, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, Poland has been facing continued pressure from pro-abortion groups, the United Nations and others to expand its legalization of abortions.
The bill began gaining attention last winter after a horrific story came to light about a late-term baby who allegedly was born alive after a failed abortion attempt at a Warsaw hospital and screamed for an hour as it was left to die. Some news outlets reported that the baby may have been aborted because of Down syndrome, but that was not confirmed.