Poland has one of the most stringent abortion laws in the European Union. As of 2023, abortion is permissible under two circumstances: when the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health, and when the pregnancy is the consequence of rape.
Abortions require a doctor’s consent and written permission from the pregnant woman. Violations may lead to imprisonment for up to three years (Penal Code, Article 152). Assisting or inducing an abortion carries the same penalty. If an abortion is performed without consent on a viable fetus, the penalty is up to ten years in prison.
Despite rigorous rules and statutes, abortion remains a sensitive and contentious issue in Poland. Over the years, there have been incidents where women have been denied abortions, due to the conscience clause. The conscience clause is interpreted in Polish medical legislation as a moral and legal standard that allows some medical personnel (doctors, nurses, midwives, and laboratory technicians) to withdraw from specific activities due to ethical objections. However, doctors frequently misinterpret the workings of this regulation, forcing them to deny women abortions out of fear of legal repercussions.
This article presents two cases illustrating the treatment of pregnant women in Poland.
The story of the 14-year-old intellectually disabled girl who was denied an abortion by doctors in Podlasie is just one example among several. She kept in secret the fact that she had been raped by her uncle from her family and likely didn’t even realize she was pregnant. Her aunt requested an abortion at the Podlasie hospital, but they refused, citing the conscience clause. FEDERA, the Foundation for Women and Life Planning, assisted the women and told their stories. FEDERA is an organization that advocates for women’s health and reproductive rights. It enabled her to go to Warsaw, where the abortion procedure was carried out.
Similarly, Anna’s story from Swidnica is profoundly distressing and inhumane. Anna and her husband had three attempts at having a baby. In the first pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage in the fifth week, followed by another miscarriage in the fifth month during the second pregnancy. Tragically, in the third pregnancy, she not only lost her child but also her life while in a Swidnica hospital. The truth is the unborn fetus’ life is more important than women’s. Polish women organize marches and rallies and sign petitions because the country and government fail to provide women with basic rights. Some women seek abortion assistance in other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Norway, Germany, Slovakia, Austria, or the United Kingdom. It’s absurd that they have to look for it outside of their own country, which is supposed to be looking out for our best interests. As a woman, I believe I can speak for the majority, if not all, of us: we have the same right to live as these children.
Photos credits: Bartosz Banka / Agencja Wyborcza.pl, Olga Danilevich, Karolina Grabowska