Polish Left announces bills to liberalise abortion law on first day of new parliament

The Left (Lewica), which is part of the coalition likely to form Poland’s new government, announced two bills to liberalise the country’s strict abortion laws on the first day of parliament yesterday.

One would end the current near-total ban on abortion and instead introduce abortion on demand. The other would end the criminalisation of those who help women obtain abortions. However, it appears unlikely that the bills will enjoy support from more conservative elements of the new coalition.

Prawa kobiet naszym priorytetem! ♀️

Jako Lewica pozostajemy wierni naszym ideałom i postulatom, z którymi szliśmy do wyborów 15 października – dlatego też zgodnie z obietnicą składamy projekty ustaw liberalizujące prawo aborcyjne:

🔴 Legalna aborcja na żądanie do 12. tyg. ciąży… pic.twitter.com/PjYbpiH0Br

— Lewica (@__Lewica) November 13, 2023

“We will not back down from our demands regarding abortion,” the head of The Left’s parliamentary caucus, Krzysztof Gawkowski, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

“But we also know perfectly well that we need to talk with and convince our partners; we know that we need 231 votes,” he added, referring to the number needed to obtain a majority in the 460-seat Sejm, the more powerful lower house of parliament.

On its own, The Left, which performed below expectations in last month’s elections, has only 26 seats. Gawkowski claimed that the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), which has 157 seats, supports The Left’s abortion demands.

However, to obtain a parliamentary majority they would also need the voters of most MPs from the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) group, which is the final member of the likely new governing coalition. It is much more conservative on abortion, and has called for a national referendum to decide the issue.

Poland’s near-total ban on abortion is opposed by most of the public, according to polls, and two opposition parties have called for a referendum to change the law

We look at whether and how such a referendum could be called, and what the outcome might be https://t.co/sQWJUAiOkn

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 3, 2023

Under one of the bills proposed by The Left, abortion on demand would be allowed up to the 12th week of pregnancy. After that point, terminations would be permitted if the pregnancy posed a threat to the mother’s health or life, if it resulted from rape or incest, or if the foetus was diagnosed with birth defects.

In the latter two cases, abortions would be permitted up to the 24th week of pregnancy (or later if the foetus is found to have a defect leaving it incapable of life), reports news website OKO.press.

Those changes would not only overturn the current near-total abortion ban – which allows terminations only if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life or resulted from a criminal act – but would also create a much more liberal law than existed before that ban went into force in January 2021.

The bill would also seek to prevent hospitals from denying patients abortions by invoking the so-called “conscience clause” that allows doctors to refuse to offer them if it conflicts with their beliefs.

Under The Left’s proposed law, if a doctor refuses to terminate a pregnancy, the same healthcare facility must provide the patient with access to the procedure, either themselves or through a subcontractor. Any facility that does not do so could lose its state funding.

The second bill put forward yesterday would decriminalise the act of helping a woman obtain an abortion, which is currently a crime that can carry a prison sentence of up to three years.

A man will face court for helping his partner to unlawfully terminate her pregnancy, a crime in Poland that can carry a prison sentence of up to three years https://t.co/NOGEUpa10h

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 26, 2023

The Left’s two proposals go much further than what was included in the coalition agreement they signed with Civic Coalition and Third Way last week. That mentioned only “the annulment of the 2020 Constitutional Tribunal (TK) ruling” that introduced the current near-total abortion ban.

One of The Left’s members, the Together (Razem) party, in fact refused to sign that agreement because it said that a number of its demands, including decriminalising abortion, had not been included.

Yesterday, the new speaker of the Sejm, Szymon Hołownia of Third Way, said that The Left’s abortion bills would be processed like any other, though added that because parliamentary committees are yet to be formed in the newly elected Sejm it would take a few weeks to begin.

Previously, a number of figures from the Polish People’s Party (PSL), a moderately conservative party that makes up one half of the Third Way alongside Hołownia’s Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), have made clear that they will not support an abortion law more liberal than the one that existed before the TK ruling.

The opposition groups likely to form the next government have signed a coalition agreement

They pledged to:
– restore rule of law
– annul the near-total abortion ban
– depoliticise public media
– prosecute anti-LGBT hate speech
– separate church and state https://t.co/lwQvGGok8s

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 10, 2023

Even if The Left’s bills – or any others liberalising the abortion law – were approved by the Sejm, they can be vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, a conservative who has voiced support for the fact that the TK ruling outlawed terminations in cases where foetuses were diagnosed with non-lethal defects.

Moreover, even once a new coalition takes power, the TK will continue to have a majority of judges appointed under the previous national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government. They could rule any effort to liberalise the abortion law unconstitutional.

Since PiS lost its majority at last month’s elections, a number of government figures, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, have admitted that pushing for the abortion ban was a “mistake” that contributed to their election result and could lead to the abortion law being liberalised under a new government.

Morawiecki is still hoping to form a new PiS-led government and has appealed to PSL to join it. However, all other parties, including PSL, have ruled out working with PiS.

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

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Klub Lewicy/Flickr (under public domain)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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