Poland 'will not back total abortion ban' following mass protests
Politicians with Poland's ruling right-wing party have voted in a tumultuous parliamentary commission session to reject a proposal for a total ban on abortion.
The decision appeared to doom a proposal to add further limits to what is already one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws.
However, the proposal must still go to a vote to the full assembly of the lower house of parliament on Thursday. Politicians will then vote on whether to reject it outright or whether to return it to the commission level for further consideration.
The vote in a chaotic and emotional session on Wednesday evening came after the abortion ban proposal sparked massive protests against it, with large numbers of women across the nation donning black on Monday, boycotting work and school and demonstrating in the streets.
It came just before the European Parliament began a debate on the situation of women in Poland, where some European lawmakers denounced the proposal of a violation of women's rights and others appealed for saving unborn lives.
In the two days since Monday's protests, Poland's leaders have signalled they would not support the divisive proposal.
Members of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, joined by politicians from other parties, voted against the proposal. Some said they do not approve of imposing criminal sentences on women who seek abortions. The proposal under discussion calls for prison terms of up to five years for both the women and the doctors.
Law and Justice leader in parliament, Ryszard Terlecki, said after the vote that the ruling party does not support the radical draft law.
He said the party is working on a separate draft that will largely leave the current law as it is but will at the same time limit abortions in cases of Down Syndrome, which is now allowed under the law.
Earlier on Wednesday, Jaroslaw Gowin, the minister of science and higher education, said the protests by women have "caused us to think and taught us humility" and that "there will not be a total abortion ban".
Ewa Kopacz, an opposition leader, declared a victory for "freedom" and the many women who had taken to Poland's streets.
Poland already outlaws abortions, with exceptions made only for rape, incest, badly damaged fetuses or if the mother's life is at risk. In practice, though, some doctors, citing moral objections, refuse to perform even legal abortions.
Polish women seeking abortions typically get them in Germany or other neighbouring countries or order abortion pills online.
The anti-abortion initiative gathered 450,000 signatures in support of the total abortion ban and is supported by the Roman Catholic Church.