Poland’s parliament delays work on changes to abortion law until after local elections in April

Poland’s parliament delays work on changes to abortion law until after local elections in April
The unpopularity of the previous radical rightwing government's abortion policies sparked protests and a big women's vote for the opposition in last October's election. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw March 6, 2024

The Polish parliament will begin work on changes to the country’s very strict abortion regulations only on April 11 after the first round of local elections, the parliament’s Speaker Szymon Holownia said on March 5.

Poland’s four-party coalition government is split on how far the changes should go, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition and the Left pushing for the liberalisation of the rules, currently all but outlawing terminations except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when the life or health of a woman is in danger. 

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal restricted access to termination in 2020. Any changes to the rules passed in the parliament are likely to face a veto by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the previous ruling camp. The Tusk-led coalition does not have enough votes in the parliament to override a presidential veto.

The Holownia-led conservative coalition of his Polska 2050 party and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) wants a return to the pre-2020 legal state of abortion and then a national referendum on liberalisation.

Tusk and the Left are against the referendum, saying that abortion is a human right that should not be put up to a vote after the very polarising campaign that would most likely precede the referendum. 

Both Tusk and the Left are also afraid of the political costs of dithering over the abortion issue after they promised to liberalise the Polish law – currently the most strict in the EU along with Malta’s –- right after the October election that elevated them to power.

“We live in a political reality, not an ideal one, we are in the middle of a very heated election campaign,” Holownia told TVN24, a broadcaster.

The ruling coalition has submitted four competing draft laws changing Poland’s abortion laws. Holownia has long said he would like the parliament to work out a joint text or face the risk that none of the drafts will find enough support to make it past the first reading.

Coalition parties voting against one another's proposals would be a major defeat for Tusk, who had pledged fast changes to abortion regulations.

However, Speaker Holownia is widely considered to have his sights set on the presidential election in 2025 already and his decision to delay the abortion debate until April is seen as a part of his plan to avoid issues that could affect the conservative part of his electorate. 

The plan might backfire as polls show Poles do not want the strict rules currently in place as their views have long shifted miles away from the Catholic Church-dictated outlook, which influenced the most recent tightening of abortion regulation by the Constitutional Tribunal in 2020.