Pregnant woman’s death sparks debate over Poland’s abortion ban


WARSAW, Nov 5 (Reuters) – The death of a pregnant Polish woman has reignited the abortion debate in one of Europe’s most Catholic countries, with activists saying she could still be alive without a almost total ban on termination of 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 came into effect, eliminating the case the more frequently used for legal abortion.

Campaigners say Izabela, a 30-year-old woman in her 22nd week of pregnancy who her family say 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 ruling.

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

Izabela went to hospital in September after her waters broke, her family said. Scans had previously shown numerous defects in the fetus.

“The baby weighs 485 grams. Right now, thanks to the abortion law, I have to lie down. And there’s nothing they can do. They’ll 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 scan showed that the fetus was dead, doctors at Pszczyna hospital in southern Poland decided to perform a caesarean section. Family lawyer Jolanta Budzowska said Izabela’s heart stopped on the way to the operating theater 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 him in the hospital?” After all, she went there for help.

Budzowska filed a lawsuit over the treatment Izabela received, accusing the doctors of malpractice, but she also called the death a “consequence of the verdict”.

In a statement posted on its website, Pszczyna County Hospital said it shared the grief of everyone affected by Izabela’s death, especially her family.

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

On Friday, the hospital said it suspended two doctors who were on duty at the time of the death.

People take part in protests against the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court which imposes an almost total ban on abortion, in Warsaw, Poland, October 30, 2020. Dariusz Borowicz/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS/File Photo

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


When the case came to public attention following a tweet from Budzowska, the hashtag #anijednejwiecej or ‘not one more’ spread across social media and was picked up by protesters demanding an amendment of the law.

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

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

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

But campaigners say the decision has scared doctors into terminating pregnancies even when the mother’s life is in danger.

“Izabela’s case clearly shows that the decision of the Constitutional Court had a chilling effect on doctors,” Urszula Grycuk of the Federation for Women and Family Planning 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 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar in 2012 after she was denied redundancy sparked a national outpouring of grief, seen by many as a catalyst for the liberalization of abortion laws.

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

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

Poland’s president proposed changing the law last year to make abortions possible in cases where the fetus was not viable. The law and justice dominated parliament has yet to debate the bill.

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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