In Poland, the case of a 14-year-old who was the victim of rape is of concern to the public and politicians. The mentally handicapped girl from the north-eastern Polish region of Podlasie was raped by her own uncle and became pregnant as a result of the abuse. Her aunt, noticing the pregnancy, urged an abortion.
But even though the young person had a public prosecutor’s confirmation of the crime, which entitled her to a legal abortion, two hospitals in the region refused the procedure. The Podlasie Voivodeship on the border with Belarus is considered the stronghold of the right-wing conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has governed Poland since 2015.
“The doctors justified the refusal with a conscience clause,” reports the weekly Polityka on Wednesday. Poland’s restrictive abortion law allows doctors to refuse an abortion if it contradicts their religious beliefs. And so it was in this case. The rejection of the hospital was drastic: “Get away from here,” it said curtly. “We don’t know where to go,” said the teenager and her aunt. Answer: “That’s not our beer.”
But it’s not quite that simple: according to regulations, a doctor who refuses an abortion should name another doctor who can perform the procedure. The conscience clause is individual and cannot apply to the entire hospital. But this, according to Polityka magazine, was ignored.
In this case, as is so often the case, the foundation for women and family planning FEDERA proved to be the last resort. Great haste was required because: “Week 12 was approaching. We had to act quickly,” said FEDERA boss Krystyna Kacpura in an interview with the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper on Wednesday. “The demolition was successfully carried out in Warsaw.”
The women’s activist refused to reveal details about the girl to journalists. “The family lives in a small town. She doesn’t want to be the target of attacks,” she explained. Instead, she called on the authorities to review the situation in all hospitals in the region. She complained that the medical profession had become “political”: “Instead of taking care of the health of the patients, the doctor hides behind the conscience clause and the law.”
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski has now also intervened. “We are appalled by this case and our reaction to it is clear,” he told journalists on Monday (01/30/2023). “The behavior (of the doctors) was unacceptable.” Niedzielski announced that the case would be reviewed.
Meanwhile, women’s rights groups and the opposition in the country are once again clamoring for the relaxation of Poland’s abortion law, which makes abortion almost impossible.
The conscience clause, which many doctors invoke to avoid possible prosecution, is “barbaric and inhuman” and must be abolished, said Katarzyna Kotula of the left-liberal Wiosna party. Center-left politician Barbara Nowacka of the Citizens’ Coalition (PO) announced a draft law by the opposition to abolish the conscience clause in the Sejm.
In 2020, Poland’s constitutional court declared the abortion of severely malformed fetuses to be unconstitutional, paving the way for a tightening of the already very restrictive abortion law. Currently, abortion is legal only when the pregnancy resulted from rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. In practice, these regulations with reference to religious beliefs are not always complied with either. Doctors face up to three years in prison if they perform an illegal procedure.
After abortion laws were tightened, the number of officially performed abortions fell from 1,076 in 2020 to 107 a year later. According to FEDERA, 150,000 interventions are carried out outside the official system every year. “No restrictive system can prevent women from having an abortion if they are determined to terminate the pregnancy. The only question is whether they do it under safe or less safe conditions,” says women’s rights activist Kacpura.
According to information from the European Parliament on November 6, 2022, at least six women in Poland have died as a result of a failure to have an abortion since the law was tightened.
Hardliners from Poland’s pro-life movement are still not satisfied with the current strict abortion laws. Her boss Kaja Godek wants to ban all information about abortion options. A bill signed by 150,000 people provides for two years in prison for producing and disseminating such information. The title of the paper: “Abortion is Manslaughter”.
Author: Jacek Lepiarz (Warsaw)
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The original of this article “Underage, raped, pregnant – a scandal shook Poland” comes from Deutsche Welle.