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Abortion to be key issue in European elections

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-16 09:14
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People take part in a protest, after a pregnant woman died in hospital in an incident campaigners say is the fault of Poland's laws on abortion, which are some of the most restrictive in Europe, in Warsaw, Poland June 14, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Opponents of women being allowed to terminate pregnancies have taken to the streets in Europe after two more nations edged toward making abortions more available.

Thousands of anti-abortionists marched through Warsaw on Sunday after the Polish government backed plans to liberalize the country's strict abortion laws and allow terminations up to the 12th week of a pregnancy.

And in Germany, protests flared on Monday after a government-appointed commission recommended the nation legalizes abortions during the first 12 weeks.

Like Poland, Germany currently has strict laws in place that prohibit abortion but Germany's laws are rarely enforced.

In both nations, opposition to any relaxation of abortion laws has been led by the Catholic Church and by far-right and nationalist political parties, which suggests the issue could become a battleground during this summer's European Parliament elections.

Germany's far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party has said it believes the nation already allows too many abortions, and that more babies would mean fewer migrants would be needed.

But the all-female commission established by Chancellor Olaf Scholz's ruling three-party coalition said Germany's 153-year-old law that prohibits abortion should be updated because "the fundamental illegality of abortion in the early stages of pregnancy is not sustainable".

Frauke Brosius-Gersdorf, a law professor and member of the commission, told reporters: "Our recommendation is to move away from this illegality and to label abortion in the early stages of pregnancy as legal."

However, the panel said terminations of fetuses after 22 weeks, when they can potentially survive outside the womb, should remain forbidden.

The German government will now decide whether to amend the country's laws based on the recommendations.

In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's new liberal government has already decided to relax abortion laws.

The impending relaxations in the two countries mirror changes made in France recently, where President Emmanuel Macron oversaw the right to an abortion being enshrined in the Constitution. Macron is also pushing for it to be enshrined by the European Union for all 27 member nations.

Supporters of the right to an abortion say the US Supreme Court's decision in 2022 to abolish the nationwide right to an abortion shows how fragile such access can be.

In Poland and Germany, opponents of any relaxation say they will keep up the pressure on the governments to leave things as they are.

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the powerful Central Committee of German Catholics, said legalizing abortion in the early stages of pregnancy "would mean the end of a clear concept of life protection".

"Human dignity exists from the very beginning," AP quoted her as saying.

And Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany's largest opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union, predicted "a major social conflict into the country" over the issue.

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