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Poland to start funding IVF fertility treatment

By Agata Nalecz

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's Prime Minster Donald Tusk announced plans on Monday to finance in-vitro fertilization treatment for couples, setting himself on a collision course with conservatives who say the procedure violates Catholic doctrine.

A growing number of increasingly secular Poles back IVF, which has been performed in Poland for 25 years, but traditionally Catholic Poland has never passed legislation regulating the treatment.

Tusk said he would ask the Health Ministry to provide financing for 15,000 couples, both married and unmarried, for up to three in-vitro procedures for three years after other fertility treatments fail.

His Civic Platform party has wrestled over several bills dealing with IVF, with conservatives seeking to criminalize the procedure and the secular wing wanting to offer state funding.

"There's an impasse in the parliament because of the wide scale of opinions and I fear this will last for a long time," Tusk told a news conference.

"This is why I thought it was important to avoid influencing what will be expected from the bill but to secure the safety of the patients and the fetuses," he said.

The treatment is backed by a growing majority of Poles. In a survey in September, four out of five Poles supported the treatment for married couples and three out five for unmarried partners.

However, so far, the expenses related to the procedure has prevented many couples from turning to it.

Tusk has already had to contend with a growing split within his party that was highlighted this month when a group of backbenchers voted to push forward a bill that would tighten Poland's already restrictive abortion law.

The IVF plan is also part of a campaign to boost Tusk's party's shrinking support following a string of political missteps and an economic slowdown. Several polls have shown it trailing the conservative opposition Law and Justice party.

The Catholic church and Law and Justice, criticize Tusk's plan as an undemocratic move to circumvent the parliament and a violation of religious doctrine.

"As a Catholic, I oppose the use of genetic engineering in this process," said one of Law and Justice's leading politicians, Joachim Brudzinski.

Reverend Jozef Kloch, the spokesman for the Polish Episcopate, said: "The proposal is just a shortcut. It is just limiting the problem to cost refunding, without searching and eliminating a broader problem of infertility."

(Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Dagmara Leszkowicz; Writing by Chris Borowski; Editing by Alison Williams)

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