Poles to stage pro-abortion protest

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Warsaw (AFP)

Major street protests against government plans to tighten abortion laws were expected Friday in Poland as the Council of Europe warned the new legislation ran counter to Warsaw's human rights commitments.

Demonstrations were to kick off during the afternoon in the capital and other cities with organisers expecting thousands to turn out for a "Black Friday".

Warsaw protestors were to gather outside parliament and march through the city to the headquarters of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

PiS backs the legislation with the support of the Catholic hierarchy and it could pass in parliament where conservatives have a majority. In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) would be outlawed except in cases where the mother has been raped or is a victim of incest.

Stop Abortion committee activist Kaja Godek said it would halt abortions for malformed foetuses, and "represent the lives of three human beings every day".

She said malformation was behind 1,046 legal abortions carried out in Poland in 2017 or 96 percent of the total.

The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks published his warning to Warsaw on Friday, the same day as the protests.

"If adopted, the draft law would remove the possibility of terminating the pregnancy in case of severe foetal impairment, including in cases where such impairment is fatal," Muiznieks wrote.

"This step would be at variance with Poland?s obligations under international human rights law."

He urged the Polish parliament to "reject this legislative proposal and any other legislative proposal that seeks to further limit women's access to their sexual and reproductive rights in Poland".

Last year the government issued a public health video encouraging Poles to "breed like rabbits" to counter a sharp population decline.

The clip was one of a string of often controversial measures the PiS administration has introduced since taking power in late 2015 to boost the devoutly Catholic country's birth-rate, which is among Europe's lowest.

The government has cut state funding for IVF and tried to tighten the already restrictive abortion law but buckled under pressure from nationwide protests in 2016 with women dressing in black to demonstrate.

Those proposals, more restrictive than the latest draft, called for jail terms of up to five years for doctors, patients and others taking part in IVF.

The government also introduced the "500+" child benefit granting 500 zloty (118 euros, $137) per child for families with more than one offspring.