POLAND – Mental health recognised as a reason for accessing abortion in Polish hospitals

“The Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA), won a clear position on abortion in public hospitals from the Ombudsman for Patients’ Rights in Poland. Now, there is no doubt that the refusal to terminate a pregnancy, despite the pregnancy being a threat to the patient’s mental health, as identified by a psychiatrist, is a violation of the law.

“FEDERA’s Legal Team represented a 26-year-old woman before the Patients’ Ombudsman. The woman had been refused an abortion in December 2021 by the University Clinical Hospital in Bialystok. She had full documentation of a diagnosis of fetal acephaly (the absence of a head) and two medical certificates certifying that the continuation of the pregnancy constituted a risk to her mental health. Despite this, the hospital authorities refused to do an abortion. In the written refusal, they stated: “Depression is not dangerous for a pregnant woman.” The hospital management’s position was supported by the ultra-conservative Ordo Iuris Foundation, known for its bill punishing women for abortion. From our perspective, a position that is completely non-medical and inconsistent with applicable law.

“Forcing anyone to carry a pregnancy to term can lead to serious mental health effects, including adaptation disorders, post-traumatic stress, and/or suicidal thoughts. We can only imagine how difficult the mental state of a woman is when she finds out about such a serious abnormality in the fetus. The woman contacted FEDERA, seeking support. Kamila Ferenc, her attorney, said:.

“I filed a complaint on her behalf and conducted proceedings before the Patient’s Ombudsman, who reacted strongly to such a blatant violation of the law. From his decision, issued after examining the case, it follows that ‘the threat to health, which may constitute a ground for legal termination of pregnancy, should also be understood to include a threat to the mental health of a pregnant woman.” 

“The Patient’s Ombudsman did not limit the possibility of terminating a pregnancy only to cases where it poses a threat to the woman’s physical health.

“This is a great win, and the first step in recognising that women’s well-being is above ideology. Mental health is an equal part of health, and the forced continuation of a pregnancy is mental torture.

“From now on, every patient who has a certificate from a psychiatric specialist that continuation of the pregnancy threatens her mental health may report to a public hospital and refer to the decision of the Patients’ Rights Ombudsman of 13 March 2023, Ref. No. RzPP-DPR-WPZ.431.362.2021.PS.

“As FEDERA, we are aware that this is a temporary solution until we achieve full liberalisation and decriminalisation of abortion. Forcing women to see a psychiatrist so that they can decide about their bodies and future is an anachronism. But we have to use what little law we have left. We say clearly to everyone in need of help: do not be afraid. FEDERA is always on your side – adds Krystyna Kacpura, FEDERA’s President.”

SOURCES: ASTRA Network. Central & Eastern European Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights No. 02 (210) 2023 + VISUAL ; This report (in Polish only) is at federa.org.pl. ; Who is the Patient Ombudsman?