On 22 October 2020, Poland’s constitutional tribunal deemed abortions on grounds of foetal defects – including Down Syndrome – unconstitutional. The law, considered one of the most restrictive in Europe, resulted in massive uproar across the country. Thousands of women took to the streets, with Warsaw seeing the biggest-ever protests against Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS).
Cut to one year later – the law still exists. And Polish women are back on the streets again.
Thirty-year-old woman Izabela, who developed sepsis 22 weeks into her pregnancy, died due to a delay in life-saving care as medical professionals feared breaking Poland's restrictive abortion laws.
Her demise revived a waning protest, which had almost reached a dead-end, bringing thousands of women back on the streets, seeking a change.
What Happened to Izabela?
"The doctors waited for the foetus to die. The foetus died, the patient died. Septic shock,” Jolanta Budzowska, a lawyer who specialises in medical error, tweeted on 29 October.
This was the first public tweet on the death of Izabela, a person who lost her life on 22 September, due to medical apathy over the country's abortion law. She was 22 weeks pregnant at the time of the incident.
Budzowska, who is now representing Izabela's family, said that the latter had sent several messages to her friends and family describing her symptoms. The doctors, she said, waited for her to miscarry 'naturally.' She even added that she was scared of developing septic infection and dying, the lawyer stated.
What Izabela feared, became a reality.
When Budzowska's tweet was picked by Polish news organisations, a social media campaign began – #AniJednejWiecej – which translates to 'never again.'
This brought thousands of Polish women back on the streets, as they held candlelight vigils to remember Izabela – and to make a point to the government that there will be more such incidents if the law is not changed.
Poland's Controversial Law
Under the rules of Poland, abortion can be performed only in the case of rape or incest and when the mother's health or life are at risk.
Abortions on grounds of foetal defects was declared unconstitutional last year.
According to data from the Polish Ministry of Health, 98 percent of the 1,100 legal abortions carried out in Poland every year are cases of fatal foetal defects.
This meant that there is a near-complete ban on abortions in the conservative country. Doctors who defy the law face jail.
In 2016, Poland witnessed a strong wave of protests against a draft law calling for a total ban on abortions.
The PiS in 2016 had proposed the draft, in a bid to tighten the 1993 law on abortions and share a good rapport with the church.
Women had marched the streets in black clothes – signifying that they were mourning their reproductive rights. Thousands stopped going to work and stopped engaging in domestic chores, forcing the Law and Justice party to cave in.
Govt's Response to Izabela's Death
Following protests now, the Poland government 'clarified' the legal regulations and medical recommendations on abortion – by releasing a new guideline – in response to the woman's death.
According to the BBC, the guideline said that if a pregnant woman's life or health is at risk, doctors "must not be afraid of making obvious decisions" about abortions.
The government said that under the Act of 1993, it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy immediately “[i]n the event of a situation that threatens the life or health of a woman.”
'Not One More,' Say Women Seeking Change In Law
People held candles and carried banners saying 'not one more' and 'indifference is complicity', and marched through dozens of towns and cities, reported Reuters.
(With inputs from the BBC)
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