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Protesters in Poland spin pro-abortion narrative

Abortion activists blame Poland’s pro-life laws for the death of a pregnant woman, but pro-lifers say the case offers no defense of elective abortion

Pro-abortion protesters, holding portraits of a woman named Izabela who died following a miscarriage, gather outside Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw on Nov. 6. Associated Press/Photo by Czarek Sokolowski

Protesters in Poland spin pro-abortion narrative

On Nov. 1, a group of Poles in Warsaw held glowing candles and signs that read in Polish, “Her heart was still beating too.” They came together on All Saints Day to commemorate a 30-year-old woman, identified only as Izabela, who died in September at about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Earlier in Izabela’s pregnancy, tests showed her unborn baby likely had numerous defects. But when she arrived at a hospital after her water broke prematurely, the doctors did not attempt to remove the baby, who lacked amniotic fluid. The baby died inside of her, and Izabela died of septic shock.

Pro-abortion groups in the country have blamed the woman’s death on Poland’s pro-life laws. They call her the first casualty of an October 2020 ruling from the Constitutional Tribunal that stated abortions performed on babies with congenital problems are unconstitutional. According to some estimates, the ruling effectively eliminated 98 percent of all abortions in the country.

But pro-life observers say the details of the case are more nuanced than protesters suggest and don’t offer a defense of elective abortion. Polish law still allows abortion if the mother’s life is in danger, and even pro-life physicians recognize that doctors sometimes have to make hard calls to separate an unborn baby from its mother to save the mother’s life.

Poland’s Ministry of Health reported that all but 26 of the legal abortions that occurred in 2019 were because of fetal abnormalities. The 2020 tribunal ruling sparked weeks of protests from women’s rights groups in cities across the country. Izabela’s death renewed some of that tension: Without that ruling, pro-abortion activists say, Izabela’s doctors would have aborted the baby to save the mother’s life.

Ordo Iuris, a Catholic legal organization in Poland that lobbied for the court’s 2020 ruling, is bearing the brunt of abortion activists’ frustrations. The organization’s new director, Weronika Przebierała, said groups on social media have blamed Ordo Iuris for Izabela’s death and accused it of hating women. Protesters spray-painted the sidewalk outside of the organization’s offices with phrases like, “Our rights are not yours,” and another referring to the group as “Fanatics.”

But Przebierała maintains that Izabela’s death was not connected to the 2020 ruling because doctors could still have legally aborted the baby to save her life. Przebierała pointed to the country’s family planning act, which allows abortions in cases when pregnancy is a threat to the life and health of the woman. “The woman should not be forced to be heroic,” Przebierała added. “It should be her decision if her health or life is threatened.” Meanwhile, she said, doctors have a duty to save the life of the mother in these situations.

The investigation of the incident is ongoing, but the family’s attorney has stated the doctors took no action to save the woman’s life while they waited for the unborn baby to die. That, Przebierała said, “has no legal justification.” The hospital also announced earlier this month that it suspended two doctors who were on duty at the time of Izabela’s death.

In recent days, Polish media have also highlighted a 2017 inspection of the hospital that found sick patients were often left without the care of a doctor or nurse. “It seems to me that there is a high probability that the doctors made a wrong medical decision,” said Przebierała. “If they had complied with the law, which allows them to save the mother’s life even at the expense of the child’s life, maybe the patient would be still alive.”

Dr. Donna Harrison, CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that’s a hard call that almost all OB-GYNs have to make at some point. She once treated a woman 16 weeks pregnant who had gonorrhea sepsis. Puss was coming out of the woman’s uterus, and she had a 105-degree fever. Out of concern for the mother’s life, Harrison and her team induced labor even though the baby had a heartbeat. The baby didn’t survive.

“Yeah, not a pretty picture,” Harrison sighed. “But all of us, every OB-GYN, has faced this. If they have any quantity of deliveries, they have faced this. It’s extremely sad, but you do what you have to do to save the mom’s life.”

Harrison sees a clear difference between separating the mother and child when you know the baby will probably die and performing an abortion for non-life-threatening reasons. “The purpose of an abortion is to produce a dead baby,” she said, whereas “the purpose of [a] separation is to save the mother’s life.”

But abortion activists like the ones in Poland blur the lines between the two acts, an equivocation Harrison said they may use to confuse people about the life-ending purpose of an elective abortion.

Harrison said the minds of pro-life physicians are on both the mother and her child. “If you can’t save both, then you save one,” she said. “The saying is, babies in utero don’t live if the mom dies. So we have to save the mom.”

Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for World News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.



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