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article imagePro-choice Poles rally nationwide on 'Black Wednesday'

By Stanislaw WASZAK (AFP)     Jan 17, 2018 in World

Women's rights groups and pro-choice activists held rallies across Poland on Wednesday to protest moves to further restrict access to abortion in the mainly Catholic country.

Parliament last week rejected a draft bill that would have liberalised the current law while also sending for further consideration a separate proposal to prohibit the procedure for foetuses with conditions like Down syndrome.

Critics contend this would amount to a near-total abortion ban.

"We know what's at stake: the total ban on abortion in Poland," read a leaflet by Women Strike, one of the organisations behind the "Black Wednesday" protest call.

Around 1,000 protesters rallied in the capital, with smaller demonstrations taking place in around 50 other cities, including Krakow, Lodz, Wroclaw and Szczecin.

"I won't give up. I've been fighting for my rights as a woman my whole life," activist Anna Wieczorek told AFP at the Warsaw demonstration.

Current legislation, passed in 1993, bans all abortions except in cases of rape or incest, if the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or if the foetus is severely deformed.

Activists with the "Zatrzymaj aborcje" (Stop Abortion) campaign wants to ban what they call "eugenic abortion" where terminations are performed on foetuses with deformities or disabilities, such as in pregnancies where Down syndrome is detected during prenatal screening.

According to Kaja Godek, one of the initiators of the Stop Abortion proposal, deformation of the foetus was the reason behind 96 percent of the legal abortions performed in Poland in 2016.

The proposed ban on this type of procedure is widely believed to have a good chance of passing.

Godek told AFP that her group's proposal was signed by 830,000 people in two months, allowing it to be tabled in parliament, which is dominated by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

- 1,000 legal abortions -

President Andrzej Duda, who is close to the Catholic Church, vowed to sign the initiative into law if adopted "in order to abolish the right to kill children with Down syndrome".

The proposal is less restrictive than one scrapped after tens of thousands of women dressed in black protested across the country in 2016.

That initiative, which was tabled by the ultra-conservative Ordo Iuris association, called for jail sentences of up to five years for doctors and others conducting illegal abortions, including the women themselves.

Parliament voted last week to reject the "Let's Save Women 2017" citizen's initiative to liberalise the abortion law.

The draft had sought to allow abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy for psychological and socioeconomic reasons, as well as providing over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill.

Activists collected 400,000 signatures to launch the legislation in parliament.

There are around 1,000 legally performed abortions a year in the EU member of 38 million people, though women's groups estimate that 100,000 to 150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.

Since coming to power in 2015, the conservative PiS government ended public funding for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and made the morning-after pill prescription only.

Around 100 members of parliament have also asked Poland's Constitutional Court to rule on whether so-called "eugenic abortions" conducted on deformed foetuses violate the right to life guaranteed by the constitution.

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