Poland’s Abortion Ban Isn’t Completely About Abortion
Abortion is possibly one of the most discussed topics in the realm of feminism, both by feminists and non-feminists. In recent years the debate has been boiled down to two viewpoints: pro-choice and pro-life—a fight between contrasting morals. However, the issue of abortion is more complex than that. Abortion is a subcategory in the vast realm of reproductive health for women.
As a nation with a long history of women fighting for reproductive rights, Poland is a perfect example of the importance of reproductive health, especially with the recent abortion ban.
Poland’s ruling political party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), announced a new ban on legal abortions on October 22nd resulting in widespread protests. Approved by the Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s highest court, the ban classifies terminations in the case of fetal abnormalities as a violation of the nation’s constitution.
It’s important to note that Poland’s previous abortion laws were already strict. With fetus terminations only being excused in three cases (fetal abnormalities, the pregnancy becoming a threat to the woman’s health, and cases of incest or rape), there were only 1,100 legal abortions performed in 2019. Polish citizens and millions worldwide viewed the ban as near-total due to the small number of legal abortions preformed.
A contributing factor to this statistic is Polish doctors’ ability to legally refuse to perform an abortion on religious grounds. The same rule applies to prescribing contraceptives. Even if a request for an abortion fits within the exceptions to abortion laws, doctors can still refuse.
A noteworthy example of this is the case, Tysiac v. Poland (2005). In 2000, Alidja Tysiac, a Polish woman, requested a legal abortion out of concern for her health. Tysiac suffered from severe myopia, a condition that made her visually impaired. She managed to acquire numerous medical diagnoses providing proof that continuing the pregnancy would worsen her condition. However, those same doctors refused to provide a certificate to authorize the termination. After finally getting a certificate, she was still denied. Forced to give birth, Tysiac’s eyesight worsened to the point of near blindness. Five years later, the case was taken to court and the verdict was ruled in Tysiac’s favor. She was given monetary compensation but her health was never restored to what it once was.
This is one case in many. The extensive barriers to abortion results in Polish women having little control over their reproductive organs. Without many options, these women either have to travel to neighboring countries and terminate the pregnancy at a clinic or endure back-alley abortions.
Back-alley abortions tend to be the more common solution. After all, not all Polish women have the economic ability to leave the country to acquire an abortion. The more accessible alternative, illegal abortions, push desperate, terrified women to seek swindlers who are willing to go through with the procedure. These “physicians” lack proper medical knowledge, don’t use sterilized equipment, or give out fake abortion pills. All of these factors leave Polish women susceptible to join the World Health Organization’s statistic of 4.7% - 13.2% of maternal deaths being caused due to unsafe abortions.
The European Parliament, an institution Poland is a part of, recognizes these risks. In the November resolution on the Poland abortion ban, Parliament stated that highly restricted gynecological care has resulted “in a high number of unwanted pregnancies, poor reproductive health, a high prevalence of cervical cancer and insufficient access to contraception.” Parliament also did not hesitate to “strongly condemn” the passing of the ban.
Based on the events in Poland, it is clear that abortion, and by extension reproductive rights, extend past the state of the fetus. Limited access to abortions doesn’t mean abortions stop taking place. If anything, it will lead to more occurring through unsafe means. Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, we all need to start looking at the bigger picture: the blatant disregard of the health of nearly half of the world’s occupants.