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(Warsaw) – The Polish parliament should reject the proposed absolute ban on abortion that is up for a vote on August 31, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. The draft bill, “On the Protection of Human Life from the Moment of Conception,” would impose an absolute ban on abortion in Poland.

The proposal would criminalize all abortions, including for women who are pregnant as a result of rape and women who run a severe health risk by carrying the pregnancy to term.

“A blanket ban on abortion is an irresponsible move and will force women who need access to abortion to put their lives and health at risk,” said Gauri van Gulik, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Poland’s restrictive laws should be liberalized, not made even more Draconian.”

The Citizen Legislative Committee, created by PRO–Right to Life Foundation, a Polish organization, brought the bill to parliament through a citizen initiative under which a bill can be introduced through a petition with at least 100,000 signatures. Initially, the bill was sent to the health and family committees in parliament, both of which issued a negative opinion on the bill. Regardless, it is scheduled to be voted on by the full parliament.

Currently, abortions in Poland are lawful in certain circumstances, including situations in which the pregnancy endangers the women's life or health; prenatal or other medical tests indicate a high risk that the fetus will be severely and irreversibly damaged or suffer from an incurable life-threatening disease, or there are strong grounds for believing that the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act, such as rape.

In 2009, the latest year for which records are available, there were 538 registered legal abortions in Poland. But estimates of the actual number of abortions are much higher, ranging from 40,000 to 200,000. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in two cases, Tysiac v. Poland and RR v. Poland, that medical practitioners or lengthy procedures hamper access to abortions in  Poland,  even for women who have a legal right to an abortion under the current law.

The proposed outright ban on abortion in Poland threatens women’s rights to life, health, equality, privacy, physical integrity, and freedom of religion and conscience, Human Rights Watch said. Malta is the only other country in the European Union that bans abortion outright, while Ireland severely restricts access. Poland currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Reports by the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and the International Women’s Health Coalition have shown that the current restrictive reproductive laws mostly affect poor, rural, refugee, and young women, who are unable to get the services they need.

“Poor women, women in rural areas, and refugees already bear the brunt of Poland’s restrictive legislation on abortion,” van Gulik said. ”The Polish parliament is playing with their lives.”

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