Women's rights activists, wearing masks against the spread of the coronavirus, protest against a draft law tightening Poland's strict anti-abortion law near the parliament that was debating the draft law, in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland lawmakers defer final vote on divisive abortion bill

April 16, 2020 - 9:38 am

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmakers on Thursday postponed a final decision on a controversial proposal to impose a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic country, in a move that could lead to the draft law being mothballed.

Polish and international human rights organizations had strongly condemned the proposal, brought by a Catholic group. Poland's conservative government was also criticized for bringing the deeply divisive issue to parliament at a time when pandemic restrictions on public gatherings would prevent a repeat of the mass protests that killed a similar proposal in the past.

Government officials denied that, citing time limits on outstanding legislative proposals.

Some women still protested against the bill in Warsaw and elsewhere this week, wearing masks, and United Nations experts urged Poland to reject the proposal that bans abortions even for fetusus with health problems so severe that they would be unlikely to survive.

Parliament voted Thursday to send the proposal to two committees for further discussion, a process that could take months or even years. There was no decision on when, or whether, the draft law would be reintroduced to parliament for a final vote.

Poland's ruling conservative Law and Justice party had insisted on bringing the proposal to debate this week, but left its lawmakers a free hand in the vote.

Poland already has some of Europe’s strictest anti-abortion laws, only allowing pregnancy terminations after rape or incest, if the mother’s life or health is threatened or if there is a fetal abnormality.

The country's society is deeply divided between traditionalists loyal to the powerful Catholic Church and secular Poles who seek greater liberalization.

The government is also under attack from opposition parties for insisting on going ahead with presidential elections on May 10 despite the coronavirus lockdown, by holding a postal vote instead of sending voters to polling stations.

The opposition says this offers an unfair advantage to the conservative incumbent, who is running for re-election, arguing that he benefits from greater publicity on state media.

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