Warsaw: Poland's parliament on Thursday rejected an abortion ban after women staged massive nationwide protests, in a devoutly Catholic nation where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.
Right-wing and liberal parliamentarians in the 450-member lower house joined forces to vote 352 against 58 to reject the controversial bill, with 18 abstentions.
The vote came after tens of thousands of black-clad women protested across Poland on Monday, as solidarity demonstrations sprang up in European capitals including Berlin, London and Paris.
Home to 38 million people, Poland sees less than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women's groups estimate that another 100,000 to 150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party told parliament before the vote that his group "would always support protecting the right to life".
However he added that the proponents of the ban were "not going about it (protecting the right to life) in the best way."
While the PiS once favoured introducing a near-total ban on abortion, the party is well aware that a strong majority of Poles support existing legislation which allows terminations in certain cases.
Late last month, PiS lawmakers had pushed ahead with the controversial bill that would allow abortions only if the mother's life was at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.
The citizens' initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would have put women who had terminations at risk of jail terms, though judges could waive punishment.
Poland's influential Catholic church initially gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since spoken out against jailing women.
Earlier today, PiS lawmaker Tomasz Latos said his party "has never favoured punishing women" during a fiery debate in parliament.
A poll published last month by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 percent of Poles want to keep the existing law.
Passed in 1993, current restrictive legislation bans all abortions unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.
Liberal opposition MP and former prime minister Ewa Kopacz, who is also a physician, insisted that "the PiS backtracked on the ban because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest."
Liberal lawmaker and former sports minister Joanna Mucha said PiS lawmakers "panicked" after Monday's massive protests.