WARSAW — Polish lawmakers began debating draft laws Wednesday that would impose a near-total ban on abortion, criminalize sex education in schools, and equate homosexuality with pedophilia, revisiting proposals backed by a Catholic group that were shelved after a popular outcry.
Domestic critics and international human rights organizations say Poland’s conservative government is playing foul by bringing the controversial proposals to parliament during the pandemic. Mass demonstrations thwarted the bills in the past but would not be possible to execute now.
“I know that they are controversial,” Parliament speaker Elzbieta Witek said. “But in a democratic state — and Poland is such a state — citizens’ projects must be subjected to proceedings in the Polish parliament, because that’s the law.”
Law and Justice spokesman Radoslaw Fogiel said he could not predict how the party’s lawmakers would vote because they are divided and there was no party discipline on such ideological matters. Voting was scheduled for Thursday.
Poland already has some of Europe’s strictest antiabortion laws, and a society deeply divided between traditionalists loyal to the powerful Catholic Church and secular Poles who seek greater liberalization.
Scores of women protested the bills in Warsaw on Tuesday, observing social distancing by driving singly in cars or by riding bicycles.
The director of Amnesty International in Poland, Draginja Nadazdin, called both bills “draconian.”
“Attempting to pass these recklessly retrogressive laws at any time would be shameful, but to rush them through under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis is unconscionable,” Nadazdin said.