14 June 2023

Abortion rights protests planned across Poland after death of pregnant woman

14 June 2023

Women’s rights advocates have called for protests in dozens of Polish cities on Wednesday under the slogan “Stop killing us” after a woman in her fifth month of pregnancy died of sepsis, the latest such death since a tightening of Poland’s abortion law.

The protests demanding a liberalisation of the abortion law are scheduled to take place in the capital, Warsaw, and nearly 50 other cities in the afternoon and evening.

The 33-year-old woman died last month in the John Paul II hospital in Nowy Targ in southern Poland, a deeply conservative region of the mostly Catholic nation.

The hospital contains relics of the late Polish pope and Polish media have reported that it never performs abortions on principle.

The woman, Dorota Lalik, arrived there after her waters broke and was told to lie with her legs up, as the medics hoped her fluids would be reconstituted. She developed sepsis and died three days later on May 24.

Under the current law, women have the right to abortion only in cases of rape or incest or if there is a threat to their life or health.

Government authorities stressed this week that the law was not the cause of the woman’s death.

However, women’s rights advocates warn that doctors are putting women’s lives at risk as they prioritise saving foetuses over women, either for ideological reasons or fearing legal consequences for themselves.

Several woman have died since the constitutional court ruled in 2020 that women could no longer terminate pregnancies in cases of severe foetal deformities.

There have been cases of threatened pregnancies, but the doctors waited until the foetus no longer had a heartbeat rather than perform an abortion.

Critics of the current laws also argue that another problem is doctors refusing to perform abortions on grounds of their moral conscience.

The liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily wrote on Wednesday that the so-called conscience clause is being used not only by individual doctors, but by entire healthcare facilities, including the one where Ms Lalik died.

“The institution of the conscience clause, since it leads to death, must be abolished,” the newspaper argued.

Conservative politicians and anti-abortion groups accuse the women’s rights advocates of exploiting cases like Ms Lalik’s for political gain.

On Tuesday, a left-wing politician called for parliament to stand and observe a moment of silence in honour of the dead woman. Politicians belonging to the right-wing ruling party did not stand.

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