Associated Press

May 28, 1997

By BEATA PASEK Associated Press Writer

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Poland's liberal abortion law was struck down Wednesday by the Constitutional Tribunal, reopening the discussion over abortion rights days before Pope John Paul II visits his homeland.

The court, Poland's highest, declared that law violated the constitution because it did not protect the right to life.

The law allows abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy for women deemed to face financial or emotional problems if they have a child.

"The first article of our constitution names Poland as democratic state based on the rule of law," tribunal chairman Andrzej Zoll said in the ruling. "The highest value in a democracy is human life, which must be protected from its beginning to the end."

He said the law was vague and allowed abortions "at the subjective wish of a woman who considers herself in a difficult personal or social situation."

Parliament has six months to consider the ruling, which will force it to change the law unless legislators override the verdict with a two-thirds majority vote.

Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz called the ruling "ambiguous."

"It says terminating pregnancy for social reasons violates the higher value, which is human life, but what about other cases when abortion is allowed, for example rape?" Cimoszewicz said.

The abortion law was introduced in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country in November after a three-year struggle to alter a 1993 law banning abortions. That restrictive law was a reaction to four decades of abortion on demand under communism.

The pope has lashed out against the liberal law. "A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope," he said last year.

The pope begins an 11-day visit to Poland on Saturday.

Wojciech Borowik, deputy chairman of the leftist Labor Union party, charged that the pope's visit influenced the judges' decision.

Tribunal spokesman Adam Jankiewicz denied the claim. "The date of the hearing had been already set and delaying it until after the pontiff's trip was not possible," he said.