Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, has pledged that his centrist Civic Coalition (KO) political grouping will submit a bill to liberalise the abortion law. He admitted, however, that it remains uncertain if he can gather enough support from his more conservative coalition partners to pass the measure.
“Civic Coalition will submit a bill that gives the right to safe abortion up to the 12th week [of pregnancy] with certain conditions,” said Tusk in an interview on Friday with Poland’s largest three television stations, TVP, Polsat and TVN.
The prime minister did not give details on what those “certain conditions” would be, saying only that the bill would be “about legal and safe abortion up to the 12th week”.
Donald Tusk zapowiada w specjalnym wywiadzie, że Koalicja Obywatelska złoży swój projekt ustawy, który daje prawo do legalnej aborcji do 12. tygodnia.
— Fakty TVN (@FaktyTVN) January 14, 2024
If introduced, such a law would end the current near-total abortion ban introduced under the former national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government, which allows terminations only if a pregnancy resulted 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
Poland’s new government, which took office last month, has pledged to reverse the TK’s decision, which they note was made with the involvement of judges who were unlawfully appointed by PiS.
However, the ruling coalition – which is a broad alliance ranging from the left to centre-right – differs on what kind of abortion law should be introduced instead.
The smallest member of the coalition, The Left (Lewica), wants abortion on demand. It introduced a bill to that effect in November as soon as the newly elected parliament held its first session.
However, the leaders of the Third Way (Trzecia Droga), a centre-right grouping that is also part of the coalition, have indicated that they personally favour a return to the pre-TK ruling abortion law but that they think a national referendum should be held to decide the issue.
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
Tusk, whose KO is the dominant force in the coalition, has previously declared his support for allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy under “a decision made by the woman in consultation with a doctor”.
Speaking on Friday, the prime minister admitted that he had “failed to convince” the leaders of the Third Way, Szymon Hołownia and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, to support KO’s position but that nevertheless “we will try to pass it in the Sejm”, the lower house of parliament.
“Will there be a majority of votes for this? If Third Way does not change its mind, probably not, because there is no point counting on PiS,” said Tusk.
“If [passing] a law is not possible because we do not obtain a majority of votes, we will look for ways to implement regulations, administrative decisions, persuasion and certain policies conducted by the health ministry” to make abortion more accessible, said the prime minister.
Incoming PM @donaldtusk has presented the programme of his proposed government and ministers who will serve in it ahead of a confidence vote later today.
He pledged to mend relations with the EU, restore the rule of law, and improve access to abortion https://t.co/5ggvoAOxPS
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 12, 2023
He also said that he was against the idea of holding a referendum on abortion. But “if it turns out that the only way to liberalise abortion law is through a referendum, we will come back to the question of whether we should do it or not. But we have to ask women about this, of course”.
The Left has insisted that it would not support the holding of a referendum, arguing that abortion is a basic right that should not be put to a public vote. Without the support of either The Left or Third Way, Tusk does not command a majority in the Sejm.
A further hurdle in any attempt to liberalise the abortion law legislatively is that President Andrzej Duda – a conservative and ally of PiS – can veto legislation while the TK, which remains filled by PiS-appointed judges, could declare any such law unconstitutional.
In his interview on Friday, Tusk also reiterated his aim to reverse the PiS government’s move to make morning-after pills available only on prescription.
Opposition group The Left has submitted a bill to make morning-after pills available without a prescription.
Poland is currently one of only two EU countries in which a prescription is required, after the conservative government tightened the law in 2017 https://t.co/TdE0oTnyyy
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 10, 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: Maciek Jazwiecki / 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.