Poland's ruling Law & Justice Party, responding to a wave of protests, stopped supporting legislation to ban all abortions and set jail terms for women who end their pregnancies prematurely.
In one of the biggest policy climb-downs since winning power 11 months ago, Law & Justice MPs today voted down the same measure they passed two weeks earlier, sending it back to the Lower House of Parliament for a final vote. The move follows "Black Monday" marches - named for the colour of demonstrators' attire - where about 100,000 people, mostly women, took to the streets to protest the proposed law change.
"We had to stop this," Law & Justice MP Witold Czarnecki told Bloomberg. "There are many good ideas in this bill but we had to back off because the opposition was telling everyone that we only want to punish women."
Law & Justice's Government has bolstered its popular support by twinning unprecedented social handouts with railing against the influence of the European Union, foreign companies and independent institutions.
But when it backed a draft law calling for a total ban on abortions two weeks ago, it triggered a mass movement against tightening what is already one of the EU's most restrictive laws.
Law & Justice may prepare a new bill that would not be as restrictive as the one it just voted down, but still tighten existing regulations, party spokeswoman Beata Mazurek told reporters in Parliament.
"A Pandora's box of sorts has been opened," Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said yesterday. "The pace at which this movement organised itself, its appeal to younger voters and those who weren't interested in politics until now, as well as the fact that parliamentary work on abortion is just beginning, all mean that Law & Justice can't ignore it."
Law & Justice has drawn criticism from fellow EU countries and clashed with the bloc's executive for backsliding on democratic norms, including prompting the first-ever probe into rule of law in a member state.
While the party has faced protests for its departure from the previous government's pro-European path, its public support has remained high. That may be changing, however, following the outcry against the draft abortion law.