Pregnant woman’s death ignites debate over abortion ban in Poland

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FILE PHOTO: Protesters take part in a protest against the verdict restricting abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland on January 29, 2021. REUTERS / Aleksandra Szmigiel / File Photo reuters_tickers

This content was published on November 5, 2021 – 18:50

By Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Kacper Pempel

WARSAW (Reuters) – Death of pregnant Polish woman has reignited abortion debate in one of Europe’s most Catholic countries, with activists saying she could still be alive without a near-total ban to terminate a pregnancy.

Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets to protest in January this year when an October 2020 Constitutional Court ruling that termination of pregnancy with fetal malformations was unconstitutional entered into force, ruling out the case on more frequently used for legal abortion.

Activists say Izabela, a 30-year-old woman in her 22nd week of pregnancy who her family said died of septic shock after doctors waited for her unborn baby’s heart to stop beating, is the first woman to die as a result of the decision.

The government says the decision was not to blame for his death, but rather a mistake by doctors.

Izabela went to hospital in September after losing water, her family said. The scans had previously shown numerous defects in the fetus.

“The baby weighs 485 grams. For now, thanks to the abortion law, I have to lie down. And there is nothing they can do. They will wait until he dies or something starts, and if not, I can expect sepsis, “Izabela said in a text message to her mother, private channel TVN24 reported.

When a CT scan showed the fetus was dead, doctors at Pszczyna hospital in southern Poland decided to perform a cesarean section. Family lawyer Jolanta Budzowska said Izabela’s heart stopped on the way to the operating room and she died despite efforts to resuscitate her.

“I couldn’t believe it, I thought it wasn’t true,” Izabela’s mother Barbara told TVN24. “How could such a thing happen to her in the hospital? After all, she went there for help.”

Budzowska has taken legal action over the treatment Izabela received, accusing the doctors of professional misconduct, but she also called the death “a consequence of the verdict”.

In a statement posted on its website, Pszczyna County Hospital said it shares the pain of all those affected by Izabela’s death, especially his family.

“It should (…) be stressed that all medical decisions were taken taking into account the legal provisions and standards of conduct in force in Poland,” said the hospital.

On Friday, the hospital announced that it had suspended two doctors on duty at the time of the death.

The Supreme Medical Chamber, which represents Polish doctors, said it was unable to comment immediately.

NOT ONE MORE

When the case came to public attention following a tweet from Budzowska, the hashtag #anijednejwiecej or “not one more” spread on social media and was picked up by protesters demanding a change in the law.

However, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party rejects claims that the Constitutional Court’s decision was responsible for Izabela’s death, attributing it to doctors’ error.

“When it comes to the life and health of the mother (…) if she is in danger, then terminating the pregnancy is possible and the decision does not change anything,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday.

PiS lawmaker Bartlomiej Wroblewski told Reuters the case should not be “instrumentalized and used to limit the right to life, to kill all sick and disabled children.”

But activists say the move scared doctors to terminate pregnancies even when the mother’s life is in danger.

“Izabela’s case clearly shows that the decision of the Constitutional Court has had a chilling effect on doctors,” Urszula Grycuk of the Women’s and Family Planning Federation told Reuters.

“Even a condition that should not be questioned – the life and health of the mother – is not always recognized by doctors because they are afraid.”

In Ireland, the death of Savita Halappanavar, 31, in 2012 after she was denied dismissal, sparked a nationwide wave of grief that many see as a catalyst for liberalizing abortion laws.

Budzowska told Reuters that a debate similar to the one that took place in Ireland was underway in Poland.

“Izabela’s family and I hope that this case (…) will lead to a change in the law in Poland,” she said.

The Polish president proposed changing the law last year to make abortions possible in cases where the fetus was not viable. The parliament dominated by law and justice has not yet debated the bill.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Kacper Pempel; Additional reporting by Anna Koper; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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