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Poland’s new abortion restrictions in the spotlight after pregnant woman’s death

Women’s rights activists say doctors now wait for a fetus with no chance of survival to die in the womb rather than perform an abortion, potentially putting women at risk.

People in Warsaw hold a sign calling for abortion to be legalized and place candles in tribute to a woman who died in the 22nd week of pregnancy.
People in Warsaw hold a sign calling for abortion to be legalized and place candles in tribute to a woman who died in the 22nd week of pregnancy.
Czarek Sokolowski / AP

WARSAW, Poland — A pregnant woman in Poland has died in a case that’s put a spotlight on a new restriction on abortion in that country.

The 30-year-old woman died of septic shock in her 22nd week of pregnancy.

Doctors didn’t perform an abortion even though her fetus was lacking amniotic fluid, according to a lawyer for the family.

Reproductive rights activists say she is the first to die as a result of a recent restriction of Poland’s abortion law.

Some who supported the new abortion restriction said there’s no certainty that it led to the woman’s death and accused women’s rights activists of exploiting the situation.

The woman, identified only as Izabela, died in September, but her death was made public only recently, triggering protests in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere.

Before the new restriction, women in Poland could have abortions only under one of three circumstances:

  • If the pregnancy results from rape.
  • If the woman’s life was at risk.
  • Or in the case of severe fetal deformities.

But the Constitutional Tribunal, under the influence of Poland’s conservative ruling party, ruled last year that abortions for congenital defects weren’t constitutional.

As a result, women’s rights activists say doctors in Poland now wait for a fetus with no chance of survival to die in the womb rather than perform an abortion.

A lawyer for her family said the woman is survived by her husband and a daughter.

The hospital where the woman died said in a written statement that it “joined in pain” with her loved ones and others mourning her and that its staff had done everything to save her and the fetus.

“The only factor guiding the medical procedure was concern for the health and life of the patient and the fetus,” said the statement from County Hospital in Pszczyna in southern Poland. “Doctors and midwives did everything in their power. They fought a difficult battle for the patient and her child.”

Prosecutors are investigating the case, according to the hospital, which said “all medical decisions were made taking into account the legal provisions and standards of conduct in force in Poland.”

A prominent member of the ruling party, Marek Suski, dismissed the possibility that the woman died because of the court ruling.

“Unfortunately, women sometimes still die in childbirth,” Suski said on state TV. “We do not wish this on anyone, but it certainly has nothing to do with any decision of the tribunal.”