Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos and head of state energy giant Sonangol, has come out in defense of women. (Photo: Reuters)

Angola's ruling party has bowed to public criticism of a proposed law banning all abortions and instead accepted a revised bill allowing terminations in cases of rape or maternal health risk.

The about-turn follows a rare rally in March when roughly 200 demonstrators protested against the proposed bill under heavy police surveillance in the capital Luanda.

"We have decided to listen to the pressure from society," said the president of the MPLA party's parliamentary caucus, Virgilio de Fontes Pereira.

The initial draft penal code brought before parliament in February would have punished anyone who had an abortion or performed one with up to 10 years in jail – with exceptions in cases of rape or risk to the mother's health.

But the draft code was strengthened after lobbying by church leaders led to the removal of the limited exemptions, triggering a fierce public debate. Ninety percent of Angolans are Christian.

The harshest version of the law was sharply criticised by President José Eduardo dos Santos' daughter Isabel. She used her Instagram social media account to denounce the "criminalisation of women".

Angola, which has been ruled by Dos Santos since 1979, is updating a penal code which dates back to 1886 – the Portuguese colonial era.

"When the life of the mother is at stake… when there is a rape, we can imagine lifting the law's ban," said De Fontes Pereira.