Polish parliament rejects near-total abortion ban after ...
WARSAW, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Poland's parliament overwhelmingly rejected plans for a near-total ban on abortion on Thursday after mass protests by tens of thousands of women, marking an embarrassing setback for the conservative government and the powerful Catholic Church.
The ruling Law and Justice party (PIS) had originally backed the draft proposals drawn up by an independent anti-abortion campaign group but was badly shaken by Monday's protest rallies across Poland attended by up to 100,000 women dressed in black.
Poland already has one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws but the new proposals would have limited it only to cases where the mother's life was in direct danger - a step too far even for many women who helped vote PiS into power a year ago.
Under the rejected plan, women and doctors would have faced up to five years in jail for performing an abortion.
"PiS continues to back the protection of life," party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a devout Catholic, told parliament. "And it will continue to take action in this respect but it will be considered action."
In the vote 352 lawmakers rejected the proposals against 58 in favour, but liberal opposition deputies warned of possible further attempts to tighten the law by the PiS government, which has a big parliamentary majority.
"We have to remain vigilant because we don't know what the future holds for abortion rules in Poland. We can't be sure that PiS won't come up with a new proposal," said Joanna Schmidt, a lawmaker with the new liberal Modern party.
Under current rules, enshrined in a 1993 law that ended the liberal approach of communist times, abortion is allowed in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother's health or when prenatal tests show serious, irreversible damage to the foetus.
But activists say women are sometimes denied an abortion in such cases when a doctor invokes moral or religious objections.
Poland remains one of Europe's most staunchly Catholic nations, although the clergy has seen its influence steadily eroded by more than two decades of democratisation and market reforms since the 1989 fall of communism.
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