AP 07/02/94 13:39 EDT V0465

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- President Lech Walesa promised Saturday to veto legislation relaxing Poland's strict anti-abortion law. If parliament overturns the veto, he said he might resign for a day to avoid signing the bill into law.

The bill cleared parliament's upper chamber in a narrow vote Thursday and was sent to Walesa Saturday. It would allow women to terminate pregnancies in cases of difficult financial or personal circumstances.

It remains uncertain whether abortion-rights supporters could gather the two-thirds majority needed to override Walesa's veto. Only one of the two leftist parties in the governing coalition unanimously supports the bill, while other parties are divided over the issue.

The current law, approved early last year after a long, vehement campaign by the Roman Catholic Church, allows abortions only when the pregnancy endangers the mother's life or health, results from a criminal act, or when the fetus is irreparably damaged.

Doctors who perform abortions in other cases face up to two years in prison. The bill replaced a Communist-era law, under which abortions were easily accessible. The parliament that emerged from last September's elections had been expected to ease the new restrictions.

Walesa, however, has equated abortion with murder and insisted he would never approve any bill that would make it easier for women to get abortions.

"I will never sign the bill," Walesa, a devout Catholic, told the PAP domestic news agency on Saturday.

"One king abdicated for a day and maybe I will do the same," Walesa said, referring to Belgian King Baudouin I, who in 1990 resigned for one day to avoid signing an abortion bill.

The president's press office said Walesa was out of Warsaw on Saturday and probably will act on the bill Monday.

Until 1992, some 500,000 abortions were reported each year, while last year, the official number was 770.

However, there are reports of a widespread abortion underground, and wealthier women reportedly travel abroad for the procedure.