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Polish activists seek support for liberalizing abortion law

February 3, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Wednesday Jan. 27, 2021 file photo, people protest against new anti-abortion laws, near the ruling Law and Justice party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. Polish women’s rights activists and left-wing lawmakers have on Wednesday, Feb, 3, 2021 presented a plan to collect signatures in support of proposed reforms to legalize abortion in the predominantly Catholic country. The plan comes in reaction to the recent imposition of a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)
FILE - In this Wednesday Jan. 27, 2021 file photo, people protest against new anti-abortion laws, near the ruling Law and Justice party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. Polish women’s rights activists and left-wing lawmakers have on Wednesday, Feb, 3, 2021 presented a plan to collect signatures in support of proposed reforms to legalize abortion in the predominantly Catholic country. The plan comes in reaction to the recent imposition of a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish women’s rights organizations and left-wing lawmakers presented a plan Wednesday to collect signatures in support of a proposal to legalize abortion in the predominantly Catholic country.

The initiative comes in reaction to the recent imposition of a near-total ban on abortion in Poland. The country’s constitutional court ruled in October that abortions of fetuses with congenital defects were illegal. The decision triggered the largest mass protest movement in Poland’s post-communist era, and the new restriction took effect last week.

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The activists are calling for the legalization of abortion on demand through the 12th week of pregnancy, with procedures to be funded by the national health system.

Meanwhile, a coalition partner in Poland’s right-wing government is proposing legislation to create more perinatal hospices - centers where women carrying fetuses expected to die at birth or soon after can receive palliative and psychological care. Women in those circumstances no longer are legally permitted to terminate their pregnancies.

The proposal to liberalize abortion, presented at a news conference outside parliament on Wednesday, must receive 100,000 citizen signatures to be introduced to the assembly for debate.

The activists acknowledged it will be impossible to secure lawmakers’ approval for legalizing abortion as long as the ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, holds a majority in parliament. Poland’s centrist political groups also have not backed the initiative; the country’s largest opposition party, Civic Platform, is divided on abortion.

The aim of abortion rights activists for now is to trigger a larger social debate that they hope will allow them to argue that abortion should be safe and legal because women terminate pregnancies regardless of what the law says.

Marta Lempart, a leader with Women’s Strike, the group behind the recent street protests, said the step is part of a longer-term struggle that she believes will prevail since support for giving women reproductive choice prevails in Europe.

“That is why we do not lose hope, despite this terrible moment in which we find ourselves,” she said.

Lempart said the proposal announced Wednesday represents the fifth attempt to ease access to abortions in Poland since a 1993 law took effect that allows abortions only in cases of crime (rape or incest), a risk to the woman’s life or health, or fetal abnormalities. The October court ruling removed fetal defects, even lethal ones, as grounds for a legal abortion.

Lempart noted that women in Argentina fought for 15 years and had nine failed attempts before abortion recently was legalized in the South American country.

“As in our Argentinian sisters’ case, we go huge steps forward but we have to also go huge steps backward, and that’s what happened in Poland.”