Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centrist Civic Coalition (KO) group has submitted a bill to parliament that would introduce abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
If passed, the legislation would not only reverse the near-total abortion ban introduced under the former Law and Justice (PiS) government but would create a more liberal abortion law than existed previously.
However, Tusk has admitted that his more conservative junior coalition partners are not supportive of the bill. One member of that faction today reiterated their opposition to it. Even if passed, the bill could be vetoed by PiS-aligned President Andrzej Duda or rejected by the PiS-dominated constitutional court.
“A pregnant person has the right to health care in the form of termination of pregnancy until the end of the 12th week of its duration,” reads the bill submitted yesterday by a group of KO MPs.
Abortion would also be allowed after the 12th week if the pregnancy threatens the person’s life or health (including mental health); if there is “justified suspicion” the pregnancy resulted from a crime; or if the foetus is diagnosed with birth defects. The final permissible time for a termination varies depending on the circumstances.
The proposed law would see terminations carried out either surgically or pharmacologically (that is, through so-called abortion pills). They would be provided for free to anyone entitled to publicly funded healthcare.
The bill also stipulates that all healthcare providers that receive public funding for the care of pregnant people are obliged to offer abortions. If an individual doctor invokes the so-called “conscience clause” to refuse to provide an abortion, the head of the department must indicate another doctor who can provide it.
— Platforma NEWS 🇵🇱✌️ (@NewsPlatforma) January 24, 2024
If passed, the proposed law would represent a significant liberalisation of the current near-total abortion ban introduced under PiS, which allows terminations only if a pregnancy results from a crime (such as rape or incest) or if it threatens the mother’s health or life.
It would also be more liberal than the previously existing abortion law, introduced in 1993, which allowed abortion in the abovementioned two cases and also if a foetus was diagnosed with a severe birth defect.
The outlawing of that latter condition by the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) – a body widely seen as being under the influence of PiS – in 2020, and which went into force in January 2021, prompted the largest protests Poland has seen since the fall of communism.
Poland’s prime minister has admitted it was a “mistake” for the ruling party to push for the constitutional court to introduce a near-total abortion ban in 2020.
He claims “he has always been a supporter” of the abortion law that existed before the ruling https://t.co/QObza3Raxk
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 6, 2023
However, the legislation faces significant hurdles before it can pass. First of all, while KO and one of its two coalition partners, The Left (Lewica), support abortion on demand, the other partner, the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga), does not.
Yesterday, Tusk reiterated that abortion was one of the issues on which there are “different views” within the ruling coalition, which was why the new legislation was submitted by KO rather than as a government bill.
Subsequently, a leading figure from Third Way, Marek Sawicki, said that there was “a large group of MPs who will definitely not support this bill”, including himself. But he admitted that some in his Polish People’s Party (PSL), which is part of Third Way, would support it.
Sawicki: Nie poprę aborcji do 12. tygodnia ciąży ⬇️⬇️⬇️https://t.co/0yEknsrJdM
— DoRzeczy (@DoRzeczy_pl) January 25, 2024
The other party that makes up Third Way, Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), also has mixed views on abortion. Third Way’s leaders, Szymon Hołownia and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, have called for a national referendum to decide the abortion law. But The Left has strongly rejected that idea.
Tusk’s ruling coalition has 240 MPs in the 460-seat Sejm, the more powerful lower house of parliament. That means that if even 10 of its MPs rebel, it loses its majority. The other groups in parliament are more conservative than the government and do not support abortion on demand.
Meanwhile, Duda, as president, has the power to veto bills passed by parliament. He has previously made clear his opposition to abortion on demand. The TK – all of whose judges were appointed under PiS – could also declare a more liberal abortion law unconstitutional.
One member of Poland’s likely new ruling coalition, The Left, says polls show a majority in favour of abortion on demand.
In fact, they do not. And this issue is likely to be one of the hardest for the incoming government to resolve, writes @danieltilles1 https://t.co/4Nze9wwEC3
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 20, 2023
Main image credit: Adam Borkowski/Unsplash
Main image credit: Roman Bosiacki / Agencja Wyborcza.pl
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.