Polish lawmakers have taken a significant step towards ending the country’s near-total abortion ban by backing proposals during a parliamentary session on Friday. This move has set the stage for a potential clash over women’s rights between the government and the right-wing president.

During the two-day debate in Poland’s parliament, legislators voted on four different proposals aimed at relaxing restrictions on abortions, advancing them to a further commission stage. Among these proposals is one from Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s party, which advocates legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks, aligning more closely with the laws of some Western European countries.

However, the likelihood of these changes being implemented faces a major hurdle in the form of Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who is affiliated with the populist former governing party, Law and Justice (PiS). Duda is expected to veto any amendments to the current abortion law, which was introduced by a PiS-backed court in 2020 and effectively prohibits most abortions. This law sparked widespread protests and contributed to Tusk’s electoral victory over PiS last year.

Tusk has made commitments to repeal the existing law, but his ruling coalition is divided on how to proceed. In addition to the 12-week proposal, lawmakers have also advanced a competing plan presented by the center-right Third Way party, which seeks to revert abortion laws to their pre-2020 status quo.

Prior to the 2020 law, abortion in predominantly Catholic Poland was permitted only under specific circumstances, including cases of rape or incest, risk to the mother's life, or fetal abnormalities.

Friday's legislative votes in Poland signaled the beginning of a protracted process aimed at easing the country's stringent abortion laws, which rank among the strictest in Europe. The potential enactment of a bill would escalate pressure on President Andrzej Duda to reconsider the existing unpopular approach. With presidential elections scheduled for May 2025, Prime Minister Donald Tusk is eager to mobilize women voters in support of the government's candidate.

Moreover, the abortion issue has exposed fault lines within Tusk's governing coalition, which comprises lawmakers from various political backgrounds united in their frustration with the Law and Justice (PiS) party. Despite these divisions, all four bills were passed on Friday, with the Third Way's proposal garnering notable support compared to those from Tusk's party and the left-wing group Lewica.

However, the Third Way's suggestion of a referendum before implementing any legislative changes has introduced further complexity, a move that Tusk opposes. Despite Poland's predominantly Catholic identity, public opinion on abortion has gradually shifted in recent years, with surveys indicating dissatisfaction with the current legal framework.