Poland

Before July 1932, abortion was generally prohibited, then the law was modified to allow abortion when the mother's life as a risk, or from a crime (rape or incest).

In 1956, the Communist Polish Parliament liberalized the law to allow for abortions for 'difficult living conditions'.

When the first non-Communist government was elected in 1990, the law was tightened. A woman seeking an abortion on 'difficult living conditions' had to obtain approval from two gynaecologists and a general practitioner.

Restrictions on abortion funding was introduced in 1990. In May 1992, a new anti-abortion ethical code for doctors came into force. A new national anti-abortion law was proposed, and although it was supported by the Solidarity labour movement, the Catholic Church and the upper house of parliament, it was unexpectedly blocked by the lower house in May 1991.

Eventually the Polish government, backed by the influential Catholic Church, succeeded in overturning (by only one vote) the liberal abortion law which had been in force since 1956. This 1993 effectively made an estimated 97% of abortions illegal.

A bill to liberalise the law was passed in late 1994, but was vetoed by President Lech Walesa who was personally anti-abortion.

Two years later, another election resulted in a new president who favoured abortion law reform. The Government again introduced liberalised legislation. Parliament voted to amend the law to allow abortions to be performed on the grounds of difficult living conditions, or personal situations up until 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The new law aroused strong opposition from pro-life Poles. Many doctors and hospitals refused to perform abortions under the conscience clause.

In 1997, some legislators challenged the new law's validity and the matter went to Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, who ruled that the law amounted to abortion on request.

The Government lacked the numbers to override the Tribunal's decision and new elections brought a pro-life majority, who voted to endorse the Court's decision and reinstate the former law of 1993.

Despite some fears to the contrary by abortion advocates, there was no problem with illegal 'backstreet' abortions and resulting maternal deaths. Between 1993 and 2000 there was not even one reported death from pregnancy or childbirth.