Poland, with near-total abortion ban, to record pregnancies

The government is facing accusations it’s creating a pregnancy register, collecting data that could be used against women even in cases of miscarriage or could track orders for abortion pills and travel abroad for abortions.

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Women’s rights activists protest against Poland’s strict anti-abortion law outside the top constitutional court in Warsaw in January.

Women’s rights activists protest against Poland’s strict anti-abortion law outside the top constitutional court in Warsaw in January.

Czarek Sokolowski / AP

WARSAW, Poland — The government of Poland, where a near-total abortion ban is in place, is facing accusations that it’s creating a pregnancy register as the country expands the amount of medical data being digitally saved on patients.

Women’s rights advocates and opposition politicians fear that women will face unprecedented surveillance given the conservative views of a ruling party in Poland that has tightened what already was one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws.

They fear the new data could be used by police and prosecutors against women whose pregnancies end, even in cases of miscarriage, or that women could be tracked by the state if they order abortion pills or travel abroad for an abortion.

“A pregnancy registry in a country with an almost complete ban on abortion is terrifying,” said Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a left-wing lawmaker.

The matter gained attention after Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an ordinance expanding the amount of information to be saved in a central database on patients, including information on allergies, blood type and pregnancies.

Health ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz has tried to allay concerns, saying that only medical professionals will have access to the data,and that the changes are being made at the recommendation of the European Union.

He said the steps being taken are meant to improve medical treatment and, in the case of pregnant women, will help doctors immediately know which women shouldn’t get X-rays or certain medicines.

“Nobody is creating a pregnancy register in Poland,” he told the TVN24 all-news station.

But Marta Lempart, leader of the women’s rights group Women’s Strike, said she doesn’t trust the government to keep information on women’s pregnancies from the police and prosecutors. She said police in Poland already are questioning women about how their pregnancies end after being tipped off by disgruntled partners.

“Being pregnant means that police can come to you any time, and prosecutors can come to you to ask you questions about your pregnancy,” Lempart said.

The new system is expected to result in many Polish women avoiding the state medical system during their pregnancies, with wealthier women seeking private treatment or traveling abroad even for prenatal care.

And poorer women will face an increased risk of medical problems or even death by avoiding prenatal care, Lempart said she fears.

She said she also worries that information the police gather could be shared with state media to harm people’s reputations. In 2020, Lempart tested positive for COVID-19, and the information was reported by state television even before she got her results.

Poland — a predominantly Catholic country — bans abortion in almost all cases, with exceptions only when a woman’s life or health is endangered or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

For years, abortion was allowed in the case of fetuses with congenital defects. That exception was struck down by the nation’s constitutional court in 2020.

In practice, Polish women seeking to terminate their pregnancies order abortions pills or travel to Germany, the Czech Republic and other countries where the procedure is allowed. While self-administering abortion pills is legal, helping someone else is not.

Activist Justyna Wydrzyńska is facing up to three years in prison for helping a victim of domestic violence access abortion pills. Amnesty International says it’s the first such case in Europe.

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