Poland began debating a draft law to ban all abortions and curb sex education as the country’s conservative government opened a new front in a cultural “counterrevolution” that has already roiled the country’s economy and justice system.
Religious groups loosely supported by the ruling Law and Justice party have proposed the bill to tighten what’s already one of the European Union’s most restrictive regulations. While the current law limits abortions to pregnancies stemming from rape or incest, and cases where the mother or fetus faces serious health risk, they want a total ban that would put the Roman Catholic country of 38 million in a group of eight states that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and the Vatican.
Discussion of the draft law began Thursday in parliament, controlled by the party of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who has advocated the return of Poland to its traditional Catholic roots. With a pledge to pull the nation out of what her administration derides as the liberal European “mainstream,” her party has overhauled the Constitutional Court and public media and triggered the E.U.’s first-ever probe into the functioning of a member state’s democracy. It also launched a social-subsidy program aimed at families that helped prompt the nation’s first credit rating downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.
While Law and Justice hasn’t demanded its lawmakers support the bill, Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak defended the draft legislation, saying that it would end practices that he compared to those pursued by Nazi Germany.
“I hope we’ll have a change that will mean we depart from eugenics, or practices that are identical with those in Germany at times of Hitler, where abortion was allowed due to illnesses,” Blaszczak said Thursday. He was referring to a provision in the current law that allows abortions in case of defects in the fetus.
Lawmakers are likely to vote Friday on whether to send the bill to committee. If approved, it would advance with no deadline for final approval. Legislators will also discuss a second bill crafted by the liberal opposition and supported by pro-abortion rights groups that seeks to widen access to abortion.
According to National Health Fund data, there were 1,812 abortions in Poland in 2014, about 500 more than a year earlier.