Polish Government Backs Down Over Total Abortion Ban

Women shout slogans as they gather in an abortion rights campaigners' demonstration to protest against plans for a total ban on abortion in Warsaw, Poland on 3 October.Reuters

The Polish government has performed a U-turn on a proposed total ban on abortion following mass protests which a minister described as a lesson in humility.

Jarosław Gowin, the minister of science and higher education, said today that the protests by women had "caused us to think and taught us humility".

The comments come after thousands of women dressed in black protested on Monday against the proposed ban on abortions even in the cases of rape, incest or when the mother's health is at risk.

The demonstration caused restaurants, government offices and university classes to close down and blocked access to the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party headquarters in Warsaw.

Official statistics show several hundred legal abortions are conducted in Poland each year. But activists say many women are denied access to the procedure when doctors invoke a legal right to decline to perform it on moral or religious grounds.

Tens of thousands are done illegally, activists say, with many women crossing the border to Germany or Slovakia to obtain the procedure.

Poland remains one of Europe's most Catholic nations, with about 90 per cent of citizens declaring allegiance to the Church. The government's climbdown risks alienating the Church.

Proposed legislation would have forbidden any termination, tightening Poland's already restrictive rules that allow abortion only in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's health, or when the baby is likely to be permanently disabled.

Also today, the Senate speaker, Stanisław Karczewski, said Poland's upper house of parliament would not initiate work on a bill that would further restrict Poland's abortion law.

Karczewski also voiced support for a ban on abortions of foetuses with Down's syndrome, something currently allowed.

"They are wonderful children, very much loved by their parents, very loving parents, bringing a lot of warmth and a lot of love into a home. I am a great opponent of killing such children," Karczewski said.