Polish opposition parties in turmoil after abortion vote

Cracks have appeared in two of Poland’s opposition groups, threatening their unity, after MPs broke party lines in an abortion vote.

Poland’s largest opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO), on Thursday expelled three deputies who broke caucus discipline in the vote in the country’s parliament a day earlier.

MPs Joanna Fabisiak, Marek Biernacki and Jacek Tomczak unexpectedly voted against a citizens’ bill seeking to liberalise Poland’s strict abortion law on Wednesday. They helped reject the bill, which had been drafted by the so-called “Save the Women” initiative, at its first reading.

Party spokesman Jan Grabiec said on Thursday that the decision to exclude the MPs had been made by the party’s executive board, which also called for measures to punish PO deputies who did not take part in Wednesday’s vote.

The lower house of Poland’s parliament on Wednesday voted to reject the “Save the Women” bill, while sending another bill that seeks to prohibit abortions in cases of serious damage to the foetus for further work by a parliamentary committee.

Polish pro-life activists are pushing for a ban on what is known as eugenic abortion, or a woman having her pregnancy terminated when the baby has been prenatally diagnosed with a genetic condition such as Down syndrome.

A total of 29 PO deputies did not take part in the vote on the “Save the Women” bill, while another three voted to reject the bill, which, among other provisions, sought to give women a right to abortion until the end of the 12th week of a pregnancy.

MPs suspend caucus membership

Meanwhile, three prominent MPs for another Polish opposition group, the liberal Nowoczesna (Modern), have suspended their membership of the party’s parliamentary caucus after some of their colleagues failed to take part in the vote on the “Save the Women” bill.

Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, Joanna Schmidt and Krzysztof Mieszkowski said they were suspending their membership of the caucus “for a month,” a period to be spent on talks to sort out divisive issues within the party.

An irate Mieszkowski said: “It turns out that my colleagues do not want to defend women’s rights, they do not want women to have freedom, do not want to live in a democratic country.”

In a move that surprised some observers, 58 deputies from the ruling conservative (PiS) party, which is otherwise against initiatives to relax abortion law in Poland, voted in favour of the “Save the Women” bill being sent for further work in committee.

Unending abortion debate

In October 2016, Poland’s parliament threw out a controversial citizens’ bill proposing a total ban on abortion and jail time for women who had terminations.

Deputies voted against the bill after women in cities throughout Poland took to the streets in a so-called Black Protest.

Demonstrators returned to the streets exactly a year later.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has declared he would support a bill introducing tighter restrictions on abortions of foetuses with disabilities if one was passed in parliament.

Poland’s abortion laws have been in place since 1993 and are among the strictest in the European Union.

They allow for pregnancies to be terminated in only three cases: when the life or health of the mother is in danger; when the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape; and when the foetus is severely and untreatably damaged.

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