Six times as many women have sought help from activists to access abortion in Poland following the country’s near-total abortion ban, new figures show.
Abortion Without Borders, a popular feminist network, revealed that it had helped nearly 32,000 Polish women obtain abortions last year, while 5,237 people contacted them to access abortion the previous year.
Poland further tightened national abortion laws, already severely restrictive, in October last year, sparking the country’s biggest protests since the collapse of communism.
Under the new laws, it is now illegal to abort for fetal malformations. Although terminating a pregnancy had long been illegal in Poland, before the change, fetal anomalies were one of the exceptions where abortion was allowed, as well as cases of rape, incest or when life of the mother was in danger.
Almost 1,200 of the women assisted by Abortion Without Borders last year were forced to visit a clinic or hospital in another country. That figure is far higher than the 262 women they helped travel overseas for an abortion the previous year.
The support network, which was set up in December 2019, gives money to those who need help accessing an abortion, as well as anyone who needs to travel abroad to interrupt. her pregnancy. But activists note that the majority of people who want a pregnancy termination can safely take pills from their own homes.
At least two women have died this year after being prevented from having an abortion, even though the pregnancy was life-threatening, said Abortion Support Network.
Abortions and miscarriages have reportedly been punished with criminal charges under proposed new legislation in Poland this month, which was rejected by parliament. But the country’s health ministry appears to be planning a pregnancy registry that “would record pregnancies and other sensitive medical information in a central database,” the activists said.
In October last year, the Polish government ruled that around 98% of the 1,000 to 2,000 legal abortions performed in the country were “unconstitutional”.
Mara Clarke, Director of Abortion Support Network, said: “Right now, Poland is letting women die. Abortion Without Borders is a lifeline for the Poles abandoned by their government.
“Abortion Without Borders is here to help anyone who contacts us – but we are furious that we are needed. We hope that governments and civil society will do their jobs and provide free, safe and legal abortion services to anyone who urgently needs or wants them.
Before the government changed the rules on abortions, the majority of the small number of legal abortions that have occurred in the predominantly Catholic nation were cases of fetal malformations.
Talk to The independent Commenting on the near-total ban on abortion in Poland earlier this year, Antonina Lewandowska, a Warsaw-based abortion rights activist, said: “It amounts to torture in the midst of Europe. It is about forcing women to give birth to a fetus that will not survive or be born with a severe disability for the rest of its life. It may not have multiple parts of the body – sometimes children are born without an eye socket. It’s a nightmare.”
Ms Lewandowska, who works for the Federation of Women and Family Planning, a Polish NGO that works with the United Nations and the European Parliament, said that in some cases parents will raise a child who cannot speak or move and has no cerebral conscience, as she warned that the government had “sentenced women” to torture.