Two recent cases in Poland and England have sparked widespread concern about abortion laws and the role of healthcare professionals in implementing them
BMJ 2023; 382 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.p1517
Published 05 July 2023
Maria Lewandowska, research fellow in reproductive and sexual health
The past weeks have seen a number of tragic events surrounding abortion in Europe. In Poland, yet another pregnant woman has died of sepsis having been denied a life-saving termination; in Britain, a woman was sentenced to 28 months in prison for taking abortion pills beyond the gestational age limit.
In Poland, abortion laws were relatively liberal during Communism. When democracy was restored in the 1990s, a new, restrictive law was imposed allowing abortion in three narrowly defined cases: when pregnancy carried a risk to the life or health of the mother; when it was a result of a crime; or in the case of severe fetal anomaly.
By Saskya Vandoorne and Melissa Bell, CNN
Wed June 29, 2022
Warsaw, Poland (CNN) Izabela Sajbor knew for weeks that the baby she was carrying was unlikely to live long. On September 22 last year, she realized both their fates were sealed.
"I hope I won't get sepsis because then I won't leave this place," the 30-year-old wrote in a series of distraught text messages to her mother, just 12 hours before she died.
Justyna Wydrzyńska is the first activist charged under Poland’s incredibly strict abortion laws. She tells VICE World News it won't stop her helping people who need abortions.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna
June 16, 2022
WARSAW, Poland – The woman said she needed an abortion. She said she had already tried to leave Poland to get one, but her abusive husband had stopped her, threatening to go to the police. Across the world, a new virus was closing borders, restricting travel and trapping people inside their homes, and Justyna Wydrzyńska, sensing a chilling desperation, decided to send the woman a packet of abortion pills that she’d been keeping for her own personal use.
A year passed. Then out of nowhere, police arrived at Wydrzyńska’s door to search her home – some officers finding more than they anticipated.
Katrin Bennhold, Monika Pronczuk
It was shortly before 11 p.m. when Izabela Sajbor realized the doctors were prepared to let her die. Her doctor had already told her that her fetus had severe abnormalities and would almost certainly die in the womb. If it made it to term, life expectancy was a year, at most. At 22 weeks pregnant, Sajbor had been admitted to a hospital after her water broke prematurely.
She knew that there was a short window to induce birth or surgically remove the fetus to avert infection and potentially fatal sepsis. But even as she developed a fever, vomited and convulsed on the floor, it seemed to be the baby’s heartbeat that the doctors were most concerned about.
By Gordon F. Sander
June 12, 2022
Last month, when Americans were stunned to learn of a draft Supreme Court opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, one group of people was less surprised: Polish abortion rights advocates.
“What happened with the Supreme Court is of course shocking but not a surprise to us,” said Kinga Jelinska, a member of the Polish abortion rights group Abortion Dream Team. She sees “a lot of parallels between what is happening in the U.S.” and in Poland.
By Costanza Spocci
26 May 2022
Warsaw, Poland – On a cold, hazy December morning, the Ryz sisters stand on a sidewalk of a busy street in Warsaw.
“Shall we go to church?” 24-year-old Olympia asks her sister, Melania, grinning and holding up a dozen pink, yellow and grey stickers with the words, “Abortion is OK”, and the hotline numbers and social media profiles of Polish pro-choice organisations.
As the US supreme court threatens to undo 49 years of access to safe and legal terminations, five women who died because of bans on abortion stand as warnings of what is at stake globally
Joe Parkin Daniels, Sarah Johnson, Weronika Strzyżyńska, Kaamil Ahmed and Mercy Kahenda
Sat 7 May 2022
Savita Halappanavar, Ireland
Olga Reyes, Nicaragua
‘Manuela’, El Salvador
Antiabortion organizations are powerful in Poland, but
abortion rights support is growing
By Courtney Blackington, Washington Post
Feb 18, 2022
Last month, the death of a Polish woman known as “Agnieszka T.” inflamed public debate about Poland’s abortion law. She died a month after doctors delayed aborting twin fetuses, which had separately died in utero over the course of a week. Her family blames Poland’s current abortion law for her death. Another woman, Izabela, died under similar circumstances last September. Their deaths may be spurring protests in support of abortion access. In my research, I have spoken to activists to understand what drives them to protest.
Feb 9, 2022
NOT ONE MORE
One year after the illegitimate ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal
Federa will not leave any woman alone
One year has passed since the most brutal attack on women’s rights in modern Polish history. A year of pain, terror, and suffering for thousands of women.
From the very announcement of the ruling of the flawed Constitutional Tribunal the Federation for Women and Family Planning has warned that the ban on abortion would result in the deaths of patients and, unfortunately, our predictions came true.
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.