Turmoil in Poland: pro-life policies lead to death and unrest
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Worldwide, there is a growing movement to restrict women’s sexual and reproductive health, creating a hostile environment where women are often forced to take extreme measures to protect themselves. This includes severe restrictions placed on abortion, leading to dire consequences — in fact, an estimated 25 million unsafe abortions take place globally each year, primarily in countries with harsh restrictions placed on the practice. Andrzej Douda of Poland is a shining example of how the rise of politicians in Europe espousing conservative Catholic ‘family’ values has been detrimental to abortion rights, ending in tragic consequences for the women denied ownership of their bodies.
This September, a woman in Poland, reported only as “Agniezksa T”, died of septic shock in her 22nd week of pregnancy, provoking thousands to march in protest. While some attribute this to medical negligence rather than strict abortion laws, many are of the opinion that the tragic death of the young woman was entirely preventable — a consequence of doctors waiting too long to act, fearing to tread the fine law between legal and illegal abortion. New laws stipulate that only abortion cases due to rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s health are permissible. Despite the fact this abortion case would’ve been lawful, doctors are wary to break these new, rigid laws. This death is surely only one of many casualties in Poland’s war on abortion.
Furthermore, in January 2021, the Polish government overturned a 1993 ruling on abortion in the case of severe foetal abnormalities, inadvertently establishing a blanket ban on abortion. While Polish pro-life lawmakers insist that banning abortion in cases of foetal defects protects the rights of disabled people, this is hypocritical; the Polish government does not provide a high-quality of life to the disabled children who have already been born. Despite measures being in place, such as 240 hours of annual respite for carers, parents and activists say there are many barriers that prevent disabled people from receiving the care they need; small municipalities lack the funds for this respite, and there is a lack of carers entirely. Once the foetus is outside of a woman’s body, Polish pro-life politicians seem to lose interest, appearing not so pro-life after all.
Around 47,000 women die annually worldwide from unsafe abortions. Desperate women are forced to resort to procedures which can result in issues such as infertility or severe blood loss. Outlawing abortion does not lead to an end of the practice — it leads to the end of safe abortions and to a rise in the risk of hospitalisations or death for young girls and women. Clearly, more stringent abortion laws are not a solution.
Although we are privileged enough to live in a country where abortion is legal, this may not necessarily remain true forever. Even in England, Scotland, and Wales, a woman requires the approval of two doctors to terminate her pregnancy, an onerous and outdated process. Northern Ireland only recently legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks in 2020, and the topic remains hotly debated. In the United States, Roe v. Wade is currently in the midst of a legal storm, with the landmark ruling (which protects the right to an abortion) hanging on by a thread. Abortion is legal in Spain, but many doctors object to the procedure. In Africa, only a mere 4 of the 54 countries offer legal access to abortion.
The Polish government may pat itself on the back for ‘protecting’ the rights of unborn children, including those with disabilities, but the reality is far bleaker: women and girls find that their bodily autonomy is being contested. The death of “Agniezksa T” in September is a direct consequence of this situation. If nothing changes, this death is certainly not the last to stain the hands of Polish lawmakers.