Woman’s death sparks fresh abortion law protests in Poland

Protesters paid tribute to a woman they believe is the first victim of the near-total abortion ban in Poland. They placed candles in front of …

Protesters paid tribute to a woman they believe is the first victim of the near-total abortion ban in Poland.

They placed candles in front of the Constitutional Court in Warsaw, which passed a ruling last year that tightened one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

The nameless woman was hospitalized because her fetus was lacking amniotic fluid. But instead of performing an abortion, doctors waited for the fetus to die, according to Jolanta Budzowska, a medical malpractice lawyer. The mother later died.

Some of the protesters were seen on Monday in red robes reminiscent of characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a TV show that has become a book about a repressive regime that uses women for the sole purpose of reproduction.

They included reproductive rights activists who say the woman is the first person to die as a result of a restriction on Poland’s 2020 abortion law.

But Jerzy Kwasniewski, president of Ordo Iuris, an ultra-conservative Catholic group that campaigned for stricter abortion restrictions, warned people not to jump to conclusions until the investigation takes place.

In theory, the woman could have terminated the pregnancy if her life was in danger. However, reproductive rights activists argue that restrictive abortion laws make doctors fearful of abortion even in legal cases.

“When the laws are very repressive and contain sanctions for doctors, they tend to interpret the law even stricter than the text of the law to avoid personal risk,” said Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

How did the almost complete abortion ban in Poland come about?

Poland passed a strict law back in 1993 that banned all abortions with the exception of three cases: when the pregnancy was due to rape or incest; if the life or health of the woman is at risk; or if the fetus had congenital malformations.

But the Constitutional Court, under the influence of Poland’s conservative ruling party, ruled last year that abortions for congenital defects were unconstitutional. The October 2020 ruling resulted in an almost complete ban on abortion.

Members of the ruling Polish Law and Justice party, which is close to the Roman Catholic Church, called for the new restriction. They argued that one goal was to prevent the abortion of fetuses with Down syndrome, which they said had made up a significant proportion of legal abortions in Poland by then.

Attempts have been made to counter the October 2020 ruling through a citizens’ initiative law known as “legal abortion without compromise”.

The bill, which requires 100,000 signatures for petitions before it can be submitted to Parliament, would allow abortion on request up to and including the twelfth week of pregnancy and in certain cases even beyond, including pregnancy due to rape or incest – the time restriction imminent applicable law.

‘Wait and see attitude’

Budzowska first wrote about the woman’s death on social media on Friday. She said the doctors waited for the fetus to die, after which the 30-year-old woman died of septic shock.

Budzowska and the family – husband and daughter – issued a statement Monday with further details claiming the woman had told family and friends in hospital messages that doctors were adopting a “wait and see” attitude and not terminate the pregnancy immediately due to restrictions on legal abortion.

Budzowska called the death the consequence of the judgment of the Constitutional Court.

The lawyer and family said the Katowice prosecutor was investigating the case.

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