Reproductive Justice in Poland

October 8, 2014

BY Anka Grzywacz

A phone call at the office in the middle of the day. A man calling about his wife. She’s 22 weeks pregnant and the fetus she’s carrying is severely malformed. She’s been misled by doctors for the past few weeks and now it’s almost too late for an abortion. It takes my boss’ many angry phone calls to authorities to get the woman the procedure she is entitled to in my country. My boss also had to turn into a life coach for one day, trying to convince the desperate couple not to give up and demand their rights. The pregnant woman heard many nasty words from the medical personnel as if her suffering of having to end a wanted pregnancy was not enough. When it comes to reproductive justice Poland is a gaping black hole on the map of Europe, one of the few countries with extremely restrictive abortion laws. The “righteous” men and women – mostly men and in particular the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church – boast of a low number of procedures as a result of the harsh law introduced in 1993 while completely ignoring the fact that more than a hundred thousand women a year interrupt their pregnancies in secret – at night in private clinics, at home using pills or abroad in dignified conditions they have to pay for out of their pockets. Poland is a member of the European Union, we are a big country and pay a lot of money as our contribution to the community. Yet the EU has not grasped the concept of justice fully. According to the subsidiarity principle each country can decide on certain issues, especially  “moral” ones on its own and the Union does not impose a single policy when it comes to LGBT rights or women’s reproductive rights. Its officials talk a lot about human rights and justice but at the same time turn a blind eye on the fact that EU’s female citizens from countries like Ireland and Poland suffer discrimination, being forced to spend money and energy to get the abortion services they need. Those who are poor, marginalized, migrant or underage are the ones who suffer the most – without the funds or appropriate legal status needed to get a safe abortion. They become suicidal or risk their health and lives going to backstreet providers or using medicines of unknown origin. Does this sound like justice to you?

In another recent case from my country a woman fell victim of a fundamentalist doctor who refused to provide a legal abortion despite the fact that the fetus was diagnosed with anecephaly. She had to go through childbirth and trauma of having to watch her baby die for the next ten days. After a lengthy investigation the reluctant Mayor of Warsaw finally dismissed the doctor from his position at the public hospital. The health fund imposed a penalty on the clinic. The doctor won’t have to pay for anything out of his pocket, it is us – the taxpayers who will pay for his misdeeds. Do you call it justice, really? The woman will be able to file a case and demand further compensation for her suffering but this is not my idea of justice. I want Polish women to get access to the services they need when they need them instead of having to fight for money to compensate for their suffering later. Because financial compensation is not enough in such cases and we are unable even to measure, leave alone pay back in some way for what they had to go through. That’s not my idea of justice. What’s yours?