In cities across Poland, protestors have taken to the streets to protest the country’s strict abortion laws following the tragic death of a pregnant woman who was denied an abortion. The state of reproductive rights in Poland underscores the threat posed in the United States by conservative politicians who are actively trying to restrict abortion by any means possible.
For decades, women in Poland could only access abortion services in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal deformities or if the woman’s life or health was at risk. However, in 2020 a controversial ruling from the conservative supreme court of Poland outlawed abortion in cases of severe fetal deformities. Before that ruling, 98% of abortions in Poland were carried out under that provision. The elimination of this provision has not only prevented many women from accessing care, but it has also created a situation where many doctors are hesitant to perform an abortion that risks the health of the mother if they believe that abortion might be misconstrued as an abortion due to fetal deformities.
This concern seems to have proved fatal. A woman named Izabela who was 22 weeks pregnant was hospitalized because her fetus lacked amniotic fluid. Without amniotic fluid, a fetus can have severe health issues and presents a risk to the mother. Izabela’s family has said that the hospital refused to perform an abortion on Isabela because the fetus was considered to have an abnormality, and that would go against Polish abortion law. Without an abortion, Izabela developed septic shock and died at the hospital. Her family recently came forward to tell her story and raise awareness about the dangerous anti-abortion laws in Poland.
Proponents of the law in Poland have claimed that this was a case of medical malpractice and that the doctors could have performed an abortion due to the risk to her life. However, this is a clear act of deflection to distract from the fact that a woman was denied critical medical care because of concerns over the scope of an anti-abortion law.
The dangerous restriction of reproductive rights is also occurring in the United States today. Across the country, conservative lawmakers are working to curtail abortion rights despite the clear harm of anti-abortion laws.
One of the most prominent examples is the anti-abortion law in Texas that prohibits abortion past six weeks and gives standing to private citizens to sue anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion after six weeks. Under the law, everyone from a doctor to a significant other, and even the Uber driver who took the patient to the clinic can be held liable.
Since its passage in early September, this bill has imposed an intense burden on women in Texas. Abortions in the state have fallen by over 50%. However, this does not mean that the demand for abortion services has decreased. Instead many women are being forced to travel hundreds of miles to clinics in other states, a choice that many low-income women cannot make. There have also been stories of women resorting to abortion pills from the internet and other risky methods.
Other states have followed suit after Texas in attacking abortion rights. Ohio legislators recently proposed an abortion law that would be even more restrictive than Texas’s. This law would completely eliminate abortion at any gestational age and would not allow abortion in cases of rape or incest. Additionally, the Ohio bill incorporates aspects of the Texas law, including a similar “bounty program” that would allow ordinary citizens to sue those who they believe have assisted an abortion in any way.
The Supreme Court recently held hearings over the legal argument in the Texas law, and many of the justices expressed skepticism about the law, in large part because some of the conservative justices believed a similar practice could be used to target gun rights or free speech. Therefore, it is likely that the Texas law will be struck down. However, this does mean that the threat to abortion rights is not still under attack.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which deals with a law in Mississippi that bans abortion starting at 15 weeks. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Mississippi in this case, it will set a precedent for states to continue to chip away at abortion rights.
Without access to safe and legal abortion services, we don’t see a drop in abortions but instead a rise in tragedies. The loss of Izabela in Poland demonstrates the importance of comprehensive reproductive healthcare and why we must continue to push back against measures to restrict reproductive rights.
Isabelle Schindler is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.