Law pushes Pol­ish women to have abor­tions abroad A so­ci­ety deeply di­vided over abor­tion

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

While the streets of War­saw have been en­gulfed by ve­he­ment protests over the gov­ern­ment’s plan to fur­ther re­strict abor­tion, in­di­vid­ual Pol­ish women are strug­gling daily to find ways of end­ing their un­wanted preg­nan­cies.

Monika, 19, had re­cently split up with her boyfriend when she re­al­ized with hor­ror that she was preg­nant. With no part­ner, no money and years of ed­u­ca­tion ahead, she felt an abor­tion was her only op­tion. But abor­tion in Poland is il­le­gal in most cases and even when she tracked down a doc­tor ru­mored to bend the rules, he re­fused.

So Monika did what many Pol­ish women be­fore her have done - packed a bag, crossed the bor­der into Ger­many and had an abor­tion in a place where it is safe and le­gal. Many have also gone to the Czech Re­pub­lic, Slo­vakia or the Nether­lands.

“I feel good now,” she told The As­so­ci­ated Press from her hos­pi­tal bed af­ter end­ing her 7week preg­nancy in Prenzlau, Ger­many. “I would have had no one to leave the baby with and would not have coped fi­nan­cially. I was not ready to face this.”

Poland, like the United States, is a so­ci­ety deeply di­vided over abor­tion. The Cen­tral Euro­pean na­tion has one of the most re­stric­tive laws in Europe and a gov­ern­ment loyal to the Catholic church that wants to fur­ther re­strict abor­tions. But a re­cent at­tempt to im­pose a to­tal ban on abor­tion out­raged many Pol­ish women who held street protests that forced law­mak­ers to aban­don that idea.

Now the rul­ing party is push­ing for a nearto­tal ban - a move that seems to be cre­at­ing new sup­port for abor­tion rights.

An­other Pol­ish woman hav­ing an abor­tion in Prenzlau, 22-year-old Ewa, said the re­cent protests made her aware that abor­tion was pos­si­ble abroad. “Other women who wrote on the in­ter­net about their ex­pe­ri­ence helped me take the de­ci­sion,” she said. “I thought it would be worse, but it’s OK now. I feel fine.” Both women re­fused to give their full names or home­towns, afraid of be­ing iden­ti­fied and con­demned back home in the heav­ily Catholic na­tion.

In Poland, abor­tion is only al­lowed through the 12th week in cases of rape or incest, if the woman’s life or health is in dan­ger or if the fe­tus is ir­repara­bly dam­aged. Poland had 1,040 le­gal abor­tions last year, but ex­perts say the true num­ber of abor­tions is at about 150,000 per year in the na­tion of 38 mil­lion. Women im­port banned abor­tion pills from else­where, travel abroad for the pro­ce­dure or re­sort to se­cret, un­safe abor­tions by non-med­i­cal peo­ple look­ing to earn money.

Re­pro­duc­tive rights ac­tivists are de­nounc­ing the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment’s plans for an even more re­stric­tive abor­tion law. The pro­posed change would also ban abor­tions in cases of fe­tuses with ge­netic de­fects like Down syn­drome or even if they have no chances of sur­vival upon birth. This way the born child can be “bap­tized, buried (and) have a name,” rul­ing party leader Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski said.

In fact, even abor­tions al­lowed by law are of­ten de­nied to women due to a large num­ber of doc­tors who de­clare them­selves “con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors.” “The cur­rent law does not work in prac­tice,” said Krystyna Kacpura, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fed­er­a­tion for Women and Fam­ily Plan­ning. “Women are clever and al­ways find a way to avoid gov­ern­ment ob­sta­cles. We are in the cen­ter of Europe; it’s easy to go by train, plane, bus and car to an­other coun­try.”

Ka­rina Wali­now­icz, a lawyer with Ordo Iuris, a Catholic group that has pushed un­suc­cess­fully for a to­tal abor­tion ban, said the law plays an im­por­tant role in teach­ing peo­ple right from wrong. “Abor­tion is homi­cide per­formed on a per­son at a pre-natal stage when the per­son is weak­est, in­ca­pable of de­fense,” Wali­now­icz said.

A lead­ing polling in­sti­tute in War­saw, CBOS, es­ti­mates that at least one in four Pol­ish women have prob­a­bly had an abor­tion, but very few will ad­mit to it. Sev­eral young men speak­ing Pol­ish were in the wait­ing room at Prenzlau hos­pi­tal, but de­nied their part­ners were there for abor­tions.

Monika was given an ap­point­ment within a week of call­ing Dr. Janusz Rudzin­ski, a Pole who lives in Ger­many and heads the hos­pi­tal’s Depart­ment of Gyne­co­log­i­cal On­col­ogy, Spe­cial Op­er­at­ing Gy­ne­col­ogy and Aes­thetic Surgery.

Dur­ing two hours that he spent with AP re­porters, Rudzin­ski an­swered at least eight calls in Pol­ish. Each time he as­sured the caller that abor­tion is le­gal in Ger­many through the 12th week. He said the hos­pi­tal per­forms about 20 abor­tions a week on Pol­ish women. “This is not the most pleas­ant pro­ce­dure, but the thing is, that if you have de­mand for them for some rea­son or other, then some­one must per­form them,” Rudzin­ski said, sit­ting by an ul­tra­sound ma­chine.

In one case, a woman called from Poland’s south­east­ern re­gion of Rzes­zow, say­ing she had tried an abor­tion on her­self us­ing a wire and had a high fever and acute ab­dom­i­nal pain. Rudzin­ski sus­pected she was de­vel­op­ing lifethreat­en­ing sep­sis and told her to go im­me­di­ately to a hos­pi­tal.

Rudzin­ski also said a net­work called “the abor­tion un­der­ground” has de­vel­oped in Poland, so the num­ber of for­eign abor­tions is fall­ing. “Three out of four (il­le­gal) abor­tions are now done in Poland, but not by doc­tors. Tai­lors, shoe­mak­ers, ar­ti­sans are per­form­ing them to make money,” he said.

Since abor­tion pills are banned in Poland, Rudzin­ski said some Pol­ish women take pills for stom­ach ul­cers, which can pro­voke an abor­tion but can also dam­age the fe­tus’ ner­vous sys­tem if the preg­nancy con­tin­ues. Those pills can also be fake. “My pa­tients some­times tell me they have taken 50 pills, which is an al­most lethal dose, but they are do­ing fine, and the preg­nan­cies are con­tin­u­ing,” Rudzin­ski said. — AP

WAR­SAW: In this Oct. 3, 206 file photo a sea of thou­sands of um­brel­las of women and men par­tic­i­pat­ing in a na­tion­wide “Black Mon­day” strike in protest of a leg­isla­tive pro­posal for a to­tal ban on abor­tion. — AP

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