Former Polish first ladies slam proposed abortion ban

WARSAW (AFP) - Three former Polish first ladies on Tuesday (April 12) denounced a proposal to tighten the abortion law, already one of the most restrictive in Europe, saying it would only "aggravate women's tragedy".

"It is with great concern that we view the idea of abandoning compromise regarding the anti-abortion law of 1993," Danuta Walesa, Jolanta Kwasniewska and Anna Komorowska said in an open letter.

The current legislation, which is very restrictive but was seen as a compromise between church and state, bans all terminations except when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, poses a health risk to the mother, or if the foetus is severely deformed.

Now anti-abortion activists backed by the Roman Catholic church - some 90 percent of Poles identify as Catholic - have tabled a citizen's bill in parliament that would allow abortion only where it was necessary to save the mother's life.

The proposal would also increase the maximum jail term for people who perform abortions from two years to five.

The citizen's bill has sparked demonstrations across the country, with protesters over the weekend waving wire coat hangers, a tool sometimes used in the past for crude and dangerous self-terminations.

Feminist groups estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 women either undergo illegal abortions in Poland or turn to clinics abroad.

Legal abortions in the country of 38 million people are limited to around 700 to 1,800 per year.

"Every abortion is a tragedy, but we should not aggravate women's tragedy by forcing them to give birth to children of rape or forcing them to risk their own life or health or that of their child," said the wives of former presidents Lech Walesa, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski.

Liberal lawmakers recently called on the current conservative president's wife Agata Duda to take a stand on the issue, but the president's office made it clear she would not comment.

Local media have recalled that an earlier attempt to tighten the abortion law met with opposition from then first lady Maria Kaczynska, who was the sister-in-law of the leader of the current governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

She and her husband Lech Kaczynski were among the 96 people - most of them senior state officials - who died in a 2010 presidential jet crash in Russia.