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Battle Lines Drawn: The Two Sides of Poland’s Abortion Divide

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Battle Lines Drawn: The Two Sides of Poland’s Abortion Divide

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It has been a year since the near-total ban on abortion in Poland came into force.

To mark the anniversary, Euronews spoke to people on both sides of a debate that has polarized the country.

The background

Poland already had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. But in October 2020, they were further tightened.

Previously, abortions were allowed in three cases: if the pregnancy was the result of rape, if the woman’s life was in danger or if the fetus showed clear signs of serious illness.

The new law, which came into force on January 27, 2021, means that abortion is now only available in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger.

The Case for Stricter Abortion Laws: ‘Every Life is Precious’

In a cramped living room on the outskirts of the Polish capital Warsaw, Marta Witecka and her husband Andrzej Witecki sit down to chat with Euronews.

They are among the Poles, mostly Catholics, in favor of stricter rules on abortion.

Their apartment would suit most families, but it feels small when their five children are gathered in the living room.

Their second son, Szymon, was born with Down syndrome. Jakub, an adopted child, has the same genetic disorder.

Another of their children, Estera, who had Edwards Syndrome – a genetic condition that causes severe disability – died shortly after birth.

Parents Marta and Andrzej believe that abortion is a crime against the unborn child.

“They say it’s not a child, [that] it’s just a few body cells in your belly, so you decide,” Marta said.

“We don’t think it’s your decision. You have to deal with it, let him live the life he was given with dignity. And if he has to die, okay, he has to die, but I’m not. a. decide when or how. Life is precious and they claim it’s their body, but it’s a separate life and person.

Opponents of the stricter abortion law say it was responsible for the death of a 30-year-old pregnant woman named Izabela, who died of septic shock in September last year. Activists say her doctors did not perform a life-saving abortion, instead waiting for the fetus to die because of the legislation.

But lawyer and psychologist Magdalena Korzekwa-Kaliszuk, president of Proelio Group Foundation, disagrees. She says the abortion law has nothing to do with the death of the woman and the law already allows abortion if the child is a danger to the life of the mother.

She argued that while there may be risks associated with an illegal abortion, the child’s right to life trumps the mother’s will to abort.

“Abortion also carries risks, so the best way to protect the mother is obviously to convince women not to have an abortion and to support them in several ways, financial support, psychological support, etc. So that even in the worst of situations, the woman will not perform an illegal abortion, but rather give the baby up for adoption.

The case against tougher abortion laws: ‘We already have confirmed deaths’

The threat of stricter abortion laws has sparked protests in recent years. They have intensified since the near total ban a year ago.

Aleksandra Owca, a lawyer from Krakow, is among the protesters.

“I’ve been going to protests since 2016, but I’ve been more involved in the last two years,” she told Euronews. “I think so [the near-total ban] was the breaking point for a lot of people, where we realized we couldn’t just wait for another election. That these things cannot be decided above our heads without our involvement.

Aleksandra believes that the principle and concept of freedom of choice has been violated by the new law. She fears that more restrictive abortion regulations will harm women.

“We have already confirmed deaths due to this law,” she said. “There was a woman in the hospital who was denied help because of the law. And she [Izabela] is dead. I feel like it’s not strong enough in Poland because we’re already so angry.”

Activists say Izabela’s case shows the law has had a chilling effect on doctors.

“So women now in Poland, they are afraid of getting pregnant,” said Urszula Grycuk, international advocacy coordinator at the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) in Poland.

“We are dealing with many cases close to Izabela. It is deeply worrying that instead of taking it as a warning, as a very alarming case that should never happen again, some doctors are showing this level of fear. And they should just do their job.

“Every day we have cases of women who do not receive the necessary care for abortion or pregnancy. This is pregnancy care, not abortion care anymore, because their life and their health are not protected.”

Battle Lines Drawn: The Two Sides of Poland’s Abortion Divide

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