POLAND – Abortion ban risks lives ; Calls for tougher EU stance on abortion laws

At least six women have died in Poland after doctors began to refuse to terminate their pregnancies due to the Constitutional Court’s ruling on abortions.

In Brussels, fighting for justice and women’s rights in Poland became an integral part of Barbara Skrobol’s life since 22 September 2021. This was the day her sister-in-law, Izabela Sajbor, died of sepsis at a hospital in southern Poland after doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy after finding fetal anomalies, due to Poland’s stringent anti-abortion rules.

SOURCE: AlJazeera, by Priyanka Shankar, 18 November 2022

Poland’s de facto abortion ban risks lives, says MEP Robert Biedron

Almost all abortions are forbidden in Poland, putting women’s lives at risk, said EU lawmaker and leader of the Polish opposition party Nowa Lewica, on 17 November 2022. Two years ago, Poland’s Constitutional Court approved a highly-restrictive new law that de facto banned abortion. Only 107 legal abortions were recorded as having been carried out in 2021, some 90% less than in previous years, according to figures published by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.

Four Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) went to Warsaw between 2 and 4 November to assess the effect of the current law with representatives of civil society and women’s rights organisations and then presented the results during a public hearing at the European Parliament.

The situation in Poland demonstrated a lack of access for women to health services, not only abortion but also access to contraceptives and other medicines linked to reproductive health.

Furthermore, in 2022, six women died due to carrying pregnancies to term that could (and should) have been aborted, said Biedron, adding that women’s lives are at risk when they feel they cannot approach a doctor for obstetric care. However, “government authorities say that everything is fine.”

Amongst those testifying at the LIBE committee was Barbara Skrobol, sister-in-law of Izabela Sajbor,
who died of sepsis in September 2021 after doctors refused to do a caesarean section until the fetal heartbeat stopped, despite the fact it had a known birth defect and was unlikely to survive. “She knew she was being tortured, forced to wait for the fetus to die,” Skrobol said.

On 17 November, EU lawmakers held a public hearing to present a list of the women who died due to restrictive abortion laws that created a de facto ban. The hearing was held before two Parliament committees, with representatives of women’s rights organisations attending. New Left MEP and Chairman of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Robert Biedroń is among those who initiated the hearing. The list of victims will be presented by Kamila Ferenc, a lawyer at the Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA) in Warsaw.

After returning from the fact-finding mission in his native Poland, Robert Biedron, Chair of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in the European Parliament, said “The backlash in Poland, Hungary and some other countries in the European Union shows clearly that human rights are not taken for granted; that is why there should be a new legislative tool, a catalogue, creating a systematic approach towards human rights, including women’s rights in Europe.”

Support among the Polish public for allowing access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy has risen to 70%, the highest level ever recorded by pollster Ipsos. The findings continue a trend that has seen support for abortion rights increase since the October 2020 constitutional court ruling.

SOURCES: Euractiv.com, by Clara Bauer-Babef, Eleonora Vasques, 18 November 2022 ; Euractiv, by Bartosz Sieniawski, 11 November 2022 + PHOTO by Leszek Szymanski/EPA-EFE ; Euronews, by Isabel da Silva, 18 November 2022 ; Notes from Poland, by Alicja Ptak, 16 November 2022