After a day-long debate, where speaking time was strictly limited to prevent time-wasting, right-wing deputies grouped around the Christian National Union and backed by the powerful Roman Catholic Church, voted 212-106 to approve the bill's first reading and send it on to an extraordinary committee.
'A lack of respect for life must lead to a degeneration of morality which many countries are already experiencing,' said Halina Nowina-Konopka of the Christian National Union.
By a vote of 179-149, with 19 abstentions, deputies rejected a rival bill which would have allowed abortion where the mother's life is endangered and in certain other specified circumstances. A third bill which called for a referendum on abortion was also thrown out.
The vote represents a long-awaited victory for anti-abortion deputies who have tried for almost two years to change Poland's 1956 abortion legislation, one of the most liberal in Europe.
Under the new bill doctors who perform abortions will be jailed for up to two years; only 'in particularly justified situations' may a court rescind a jail term. However, a mother who seeks an abortion or performs one herself will not be punished.
The bill also gives an unborn child legal rights which it may exercise against its parents if it is born alive in order to recover damages for harm caused during pregnancy.