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Lawmakers overwhelmingly reject total ban on abortion

Polish lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to reject a proposal by an anti-abortion group that would have imposed a total ban on abortion, caving in to massive outrage by women who have been dressing in black and waging street protests across the country.

The mostly Catholic nation already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with abortion only allowed in rare cases — rape or incest, when the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is badly damaged.

The proposal for further tightening the law came from a citizens’ initiative that gathered some 450,000 signatures in this nation of 38 million. It was supported by the Roman Catholic church. But it was highly unpopular with most Poles, with people balking at the idea that a teenage rape victim should be forced to have her baby, or that a woman whose health was badly compromised would be forced to carry to term. The proposal had also called for prison terms of up to five years for women who sought abortions.

A sea of thousands of umbrellas of women and men participating in a nationwide ìBlack Mondayî strike to protest a legislative proposal for a total ban on abortion, in downtown Castle Square is pictured in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. Massive protests were held in the rain in the streets of Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and elsewhere across the largely Catholic nation led by a conservative government. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

With abortion already illegal in most cases, many women said what frightened them the most in the proposal was that it could have led doctors to be afraid to perform prenatal tests or that women who suffered miscarriages could start to fall under criminal suspicion.

Initially many members of the conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, supported the proposal. Two weeks ago a majority of lawmakers voted to consider it, sending it to a commission for further study. But the party backed away from it under massive social pressure, and lawmakers voted against it 352-58.

The outcome of the vote is a blow to the ruling party, which has a core of ultra-conservative Catholic voters that wanted to see further restrictions to the abortion law. But the party also came to power thanks to centrist voters and young people who were attracted by the party’s welfare program, with its promises to help the poor and even out the vast economic differences of the post-communist era.

Many in that latter group have been taking to the streets in recent days, and opinion polls show that the party’s support has now fallen to its lowest point since it won elections a year ago.

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