Poland's SDL proposes liberalising abortion laws

Poland currently has some of Europe's most restrictive abortion legislation. But that may be about to change. The ruling Social Democratic Left Alliance - the SLD - is present a new bill to Parliament which they say will protect a woman's right to decide about parenthood. Agnieska Bielawska reports.

The Polish anti abortion law ranks among Europe's most restrictive abortion legislation. Terminating pregnancy is allowed only when the pregnancy threatens a woman's life or results from rape or if the fetus is damaged.The SLD promised to give women safe access to abortion in its 2001 election campaign, but later the issue was put aside in a move analysts called vital for maintaing good relations with the Church. Now with the rise of the number of supporters of relaxed anti abortion rules and with the hope of winning back its electorate the SLD decided to deal with the controversial issue again .Marek Dyduch, one of the SLD leaders

"The latest surveys show that already over 67% of Poles call for a change of the law, we had promised eased regulations during our campaign and we now return to the bill because it is vital for Poland."

The new bill will give women the right to terminate pregnancies safely, and will also provide for sex education, guaranteed access to birth control and prenatal care as well as treatment for sterility and in-vitro fertilization, says SLD member Jolanta Banach, adding that it will finally put a stop to the widespread practice of conducting illegal abortions.

"Even though it is obvious that the old law is not a fortunate one, the introduction of a new bill will not be easy. There are many supporters, who see the urgent need for changes in a bill which has little to do with reality. It is enough to reach for the Warsaw city daily to choose from advertisements offering illegal abortions in renowned clinics."

Women's rights groups have criticized the old anti abortion law which imposes jail terms of up to three years on doctors performing illegal abortions, and hampers women's rights. The associations are aware that the introduction of eased regulations may not be easy but alert public attention to the importance of the problem. Aleksandra Solik from the federation of family planning.

"We strongly support their change of the law and I am talking on behalf of the womens organiztions and feminist organizations in Poland. And we really think that its very important to ease the anti abortion law. It will change the situation of women. We have the back seat abortions, quite a lot of them. Women are deprived of their rights. Its strongly discriminating against women and also against poor women who do not have the access to back seat abortions because of the high costs of those. So, in fact, those women who really are in very bad economical situations they are forced to give birth to babies and then to leave them or to struggle to live."

The bill may have difficulty in getting through parliament and will undoubtedly bring about the wrath of the Catholic church in Poland. Father Krzysztof Madel admits that the stand of the church on the issue of abortion is unchanged, but adds that there is always room for discussion.

"According to the Catholic tradition any kind of abortion is seen also as a sort of a crime. There are cases of special treatment in the hospitals in which an abortion is just a secondary result of this treatment. And in such a case it was never called abortion but such cases are extremely rare. But also I would agree that dialogue or even debate, a very forceful debate, is always needed. Because only this debate changes the mentality of the Polish society which was just unconscious of the problem of the abortion."

And the debate will begin anew when the new bill enters parliament by the end of the month.