Women demonstrating against proposed changes to Poland's restrictive abortion law that would effectively ban terminations in the EU country of 38 million people
Warsaw (AFP) - Pro-choice activists in Poland sent a citizens' bill to parliament Thursday intended to ease access to abortion in the staunchly Catholic EU state and torpedo moves toward a near total ban on terminations.
The "Save Women" group gathered 215,000 signatures for their draft legislation, which includes access to abortion until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy -- something the existing restrictive law does not provide.
Although recent opinion surveys suggest a majority of Poles want access to terminations widened, the proposal has virtually no chance in the country's right-wing dominated parliament.
Adopted in 1993, the current law is among the most restrictive in the EU. It bans all terminations except for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, pose a health risk to the mother, or where the foetus is severely deformed.
Anti-abortion activists backed by the influential Catholic Church tabled their own "Stop Abortion" citizens' bill in parliament last month that would allow abortion only to save a woman's life.
The proposal would also increase the maximum jail term for people who perform unauthorised abortions from two years to five. Women undergoing illegal abortions are also liable, although judges could waive sentences.
This citizens' bill was backed by 450,000 signatures, while a minimum 100,000 are required in order for citizen-proposed legislation to be considered by parliament.
Krystyna Kacpura, head of the Warsaw-based Federation for Women and Family Planning, warned Thursday that further restrictions would push Poland's flourishing illegal abortion sector even further underground.
"Further underground means it would be even more dangerous and expensive," meaning even greater hardship for low income women, Kacpura told Polish media.
There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions each year in the country of 38 million people.
According to Kacpura, another 100,000-150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad, mostly in the neighbouring Czech Republic, Germany or Slovakia.
Activists say illegal abortions cost upwards of 500 euros ($560), or about half the average monthly salary.
Pro-choice advocates and opponents have staged a string of rallies over the last eight months, mostly in the capital Warsaw.