On September 22, 2021, a 30-year-old Polish woman named Izabela died of septic shock at the hospital after her unborn baby’s heart stopped beating. Her death initiated waves of protests across Poland and was seen as the direct consequence of a near total ban on abortion passed in 2020, which outlawed the termination of pregnancies even in the case of fetal defects. Under this new law, unlawful abortion could lead to up to eight years in prison. Terrified of the law and of its potential consequences, Izabela’s doctors waited too long to terminate the pregnancy despite knowing the potential risks for the mother—resulting in her death.
The case of Poland sheds light on a puzzling contemporary phenomenon. The right to abortion has recently been under attack in several countries where it was previously legalized in the late 20th century. In September 2021, the US Supreme Court refused to block legislation in Texas that would ban terminations of pregnancy after six weeks, which is after many women are even aware that they are pregnant. In Turkey, where abortion has been legal since 1983, President Erdogan’s conservative position on abortion is making it increasingly difficult for women to access abortions in public hospitals.