Thousands condemn Poland’s abortion restrictions after woman dies
The Polish health authorities have told doctors it is legal to terminate a pregnancy when the mother’s health is in danger amid apparent confusion over Poland’s abortion law.
Tens of thousands of people have protested in about 70 towns and cities across Poland after the death of a pregnant woman, named only as Izabela, in an incident blamed by many on the crackdown on abortion rights.
The 30-year-old woman from the southern town of Pszczyna, suffered septic shock after doctors waited for her 22-week-old foetus – which had significant defects – to die before removing it.
The government directive addressed to obstetricians appears to have been in response to the protests rather than Izabela’s death, which happened in September but only became widely known about this month.
Before her death, Izabela sent messages to her mother saying: “My fever is going up” and “I hope I won’t get sepsis.”
Medics refused to abort the foetus, opting to wait for it to die naturally inside her uterus.
“Although in theory, [the doctors] could terminate the pregnancy because it endangered the mother’s life, they were afraid and waited for the foetus to die naturally. If they had acted earlier, this woman would be alive,” said Warsaw city councillor Dorota Loboda, who attended the protest in the capital.
Medics at Pszczyna’s hospital delayed performing the termination although the foetus lacked enough amniotic fluid to survive, her family said.
The doctors involved have been suspended and prosecutors are investigating.
Protesters blamed the death on new restrictions in Poland’s abortion law. Women’s rights campaigners say it has made doctors hesitant in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
Jolanta Budzowska, the family’s lawyer, said Izabela’s heart stopped shortly after the foetus died and before a caesarean section could be performed.
The health ministry on Sunday announced a pregnancy can be terminated when a woman’s health is in danger and especially if death is a possibility. The directive included guidance in cases where there is a premature loss of amniotic fluid.
“It should be clearly stressed that doctors must not be afraid to take evident decisions. stemming from their experience and the available medical knowledge,” the health ministry said.
Until last year Polish women could only have abortions in three scenarios: if the pregnancy resulted from a crime like rape; if the woman’s health or life is at risk; or if the foetus is suffering from irreparable defects.
That final option was removed when the Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s controversial supreme court, ruled it contravened Polish law.
Supporters of the new abortion law say Izabela’s death is not related to the ban.
Polish protests against the abortion restrictions last year. Picture credit: YouTube