WARSAW, Poland (NEWSnet/AP) — Polish lawmakers voted Friday to continue work on a bill package that is intended to ease a near-total ban on abortion services in that country.

The matter has been a divisive issue in Poland, which is traditionally Roman Catholic and has one of the most restrictive laws in Europe.

Abortion is currently only allowed in Poland in the cases of rape or incest or if the woman’s life or health is at risk. According to Health Ministry statistics, only 161 abortions were performed in Polish hospitals in 2022. As a practical detail, Polish women who decide to have abortions use medication mailed from abroad. It is not a crime for a woman to perform her own abortion, the crime is assisting her.

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution demanding the inclusion of the right to abortion in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Lawmakers called on Poland and Malta, the two countries with the toughest limitations on abortion, to lift restrictions on the issue.

Members of Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, have now voted to work on four separate bills. Two of them propose legalizing abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy, in line with European norms. The Sejm also voted to create a commission that would work on the four bills.

One plan proposes decriminalizing giving assistance to a woman who terminates a pregnancy, currently a crime punishable by three years in prison. And a fourth would keep a ban in most cases but allows abortions in cases of fetal defects — a right that was eliminated by a 2020 court ruling.

The party of centrist Prime Minister Donald Tusk is seeking to change the law to allow women to terminate pregnancies up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Tusk won office last year after an election in which large numbers of young people participated, some waiting in very long lines, and voter turnout reaching a record high of nearly 75%.

That being said: Any liberalization bill would likely be vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, a conservative who last month vetoed a bill making emergency contraception available over-the-counter.

Duda’s second and final term runs until the summer of 2025.

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