Poland’s Abortion Crisis

Krakow Protests. October 2020.
Photograph: Mateusz Kaleta

By Maya Eyre

Last year, Poland made the controversial decision to create a near total ban for abortion, under any circumstances. This is not a total surprise for Polish citizens, as since 1993, abortion has only been allowed when the woman’s life was in danger, the prenatal tests showed that the baby may develop a severe disability or could not survive alone, or finally, if the pregnancy was as a result of rape. Therefore, it is not totally a new concept for polish citizens; however it hit the rest of the world with shock. These new laws come, after Poland has already got some of the strictest abortion laws in the EU.

In October of 2020, Poland implemented this near total ban, by removing the clause that stated a woman was able to abort, if the foetus had severe health defects. This also meant that doctors can receive a sentence of three years in prison for performing an abortion. With this, brought many riots in the major cities of Poland, with women in uproar over this decision. Marta Lempart is a major contributor to the riots, with over 81 legal cases presented against her. She believes that this is an example of political power destroying the rule of law and judicial independence and has been attacked with many death threats and harassment. This highlights the disrespect women in Poland feel regarding this political ban, and how this mutual disagreement furthers the need for action on this topic.

Furthermore, the main identification of this issue is that women’s health and autonomy needs are being disrespected. Which is what this law goes against. This disrespect of women’s health and autonomy is shown by a recent case of a 30 year old woman, who died of sepsis due to complications in her pregnancy, as she was 22 weeks in to her pregnancy (BBC, 2021). This is because the doctor was too scared of the consequences to perform the necessary abortion, in order to save the woman’s life. The doctor made the decision to let the foetus die naturally inside of Izabela, to then perform the surgery afterwards to remove the foetus, without technically killing it. However, this was a fatal decision and this resulted in the woman falling into septic shock, which eventually lead to her death. This shows how Izabela’s life was not respected or appreciated, and ended in the unnecessary loss of her life. Izabela had a husband and another child at home. This focus on the foetus, and not the mother is extremely dangerous and a source of much fear for women in Poland. Polish women are being taught to believe that their life is not as valuable as the foetuses inside them. In protest, people took to the streets of Poland, specifically the capital, Warsaw, with chants such as: “Her heart was beating too” (BBC, 2021). If the woman was the main focus of this medical situation, this tragedy would not have happened.

Furthermore, speaking to polish students, there are now concerns whether abortion after rape will also be banned. This would mean that there is a larger court trial for someone having an abortion after rape, than there would be for the rapist. This shocking fact is deeply concerning for polish citizens, both male and female, as the female would have to live with a child born from a traumatic experience. Additionally, there are also rumours that the government, may be attempting to create a database in which they will record all pregnancies in Poland. This meaning, that when a woman goes to the doctor for a check up, or to find out if she is pregnant, this will be recorded. This is so that women are not allowed to illegally abort or to travel abroad, in order to have abortions. Over 200,000 women travelled abroad for the abortion or had an illegal procedure, every year (BBC, 2021), and this number will keep increasing with Poland’s tightening restrictions. The increase in illegal abortions also poses a major threat to women’s health and wellbeing, as they are forced to look elsewhere for solutions.


Maya Eyre – BA Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Thought (Erasmus Year Abroad Student at the University of Crete)