Men in suits will decide for Polish women. Constitutional Tribunal decides on abortion next week
“If the authorities were really pro-family, they would deal with the problem of separating mothers from newborns during the pandemic, and not with the abortion law,” says lawyer Kamila Ferenc. “We Polish women know what is good for our children and for our families. Politicians, leave us alone.”
On 22 October, the Constitutional Tribunal is going to issue a verdict on the constitutionality of termination of pregnancy due to severe and incurable defects of the foetus. In the autumn of 2019, 119 MPs have requested it. If the Tribunal issues a verdict in line with the expectation of the MPs it will make abortion permitted only in cases where a woman’s life or health is at risk and in case of rape. In 2019, these two cases represented only 2% of legal abortions.
More than a hundred social organisations, associated as the Great Coalition for Equality and Choice, signed an appeal to withdraw the issue of abortion from the Constitutional Tribunal. The campaign was organised by the Federation for Women and Family Planning. On Wednesday, the Federation organised a press conference warning against the destructive impact of a possible ban on abortion on embryopathological grounds.
“The Constitutional Tribunal no longer exists as an independent court, and hasn’t for several years — it has been overtaken by politicians. The motion to declare this kind of abortion unconstitutional was submitted by ultra-conservative politicians. Again, it is the men in suits who can afford medical care abroad who will decide for women, for Polish families,” said Krystyna Kacpura, director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning.
“Terminations are well-thought-out decisions”
Dr Anna Parzyńska, a gynaecologist, commented on why women decide to terminate such pregnancies:
“The law does not mean an obligation. Every woman who has to deal with a seriously ill fetus has two options now: she can either terminate the pregnancy or continue it. And she should be supported and respected in both cases by society and by doctors.
I have had contact with patients who decided to end a long-awaited pregnancy due to severe and irreversible damage to the fetus, numerous times. These were patients who had gone through a great deal of suffering and who made these decisions with heavy hearts. Termination is also not just a simple procedure. It all stays with the woman and she does not make a decision about it in five minutes. These are well-thought-out decisions, made in consultation with doctors. Patients always have the opportunity to consult a cardiac surgeon or a neurosurgeon, who takes care of such children, to get advice. These doctors can describe the situation of such children after birth. Whether they will live and how they will live […]
Unfortunately, it is the politicians who decide for us. The people who are very loud on this issue will never find themselves in this situation. They don’t know how such a woman feels and they have no right to judge her. They don’t know her past, her family situation, what her life is like.”
To deny the right to terminate such pregnancies is torture
“We have always wanted European standards in Poland, but what we see in fact is a regress. Polish women will need to seek help in other countries. Foreign abortion clinics will be rubbing their hands. The effects of this verdict will ultimately hit the less well-off, those who cannot afford such a trip. And the reality of the pandemic may even exclude this possibility,” explained Federation lawyer Kamila Ferenc.
“The UN Committee on Torture made it clear that lack of access to legal abortion is a violation of the prohibition of torture. The UN Human Rights Committee in its decisions in 2017 and 2018, including Mellet v. Ireland, made it very clear that it is inhumane to force a woman, a national of one country, to travel to another country in order terminate her pregnancy due to serious foetal malformation in acceptable conditions.
If on October 22nd the so-called Constitutional Tribunal prohibits abortion due to foetal malformations, it will be a sign that fundamentalism has entered into the life of Polish families […]
If the authorities were really pro-family, they would deal with the problem of separating mothers from newborns during the pandemic, and not with the abortion law, because we all know very well: the abortion bans do not increase the number of births, their only aim is humiliation. The government’s actions towards women are devoid of empathy and respect, they are rather supposed to show ‘you need to be afraid and remember who is in charge here, who has the power over your bodies and your life!’”
Car protests all over Poland
Marta Lempart, leader of the National Women’s Strike, reminded that the government was already making moves to ban abortion and sex education in April. Then the women managed to stop them.
“We do not disregard the pandemic and the restrictions, but neither do we close our eyes to how the current government is using this pandemic to violate our rights. That’s why we’re organising a car protest on October 19th. Join us!”
The events are organised on Facebook. In Warsaw #OstraJazda [editor’s note: slogan saying “Wild Ride”] will take place near the Constitutional Court on Szucha Avenue. Protests in this formula are also planned in Katowice, Slupsk, Wroclaw, Kielce.
“I terminated my pregnancy not to cause suffering”
Kamila Ferenc also read excerpts from a letter from a woman whom the Federation helped to exercise her right to terminate her pregnancy. Below we publish its entire content:
I am a Pole, a mother and a Catholic. I have been waiting for this pregnancy and the baby. I have been preparing for a long time. I took vitamins, I took care of myself. I found out about the diagnosis late, in the nineteenth week. First, the doctor postponed the ultrasound scan, then he didn’t want to give a referral for genetic testing. I had to find another doctor. Then I waited for a very long time for the results. Later it turned out that I had waited longer than I normally should have. Then I was sent back from a specialist to another specialist before anyone dared to tell me: Patau syndrome. About 70% of the children with it die within the first six months of their lives.
First I went to pieces. Then I thought about it, looked at my family, my little children and decided to make a decision. I want to exercise my right to terminate the pregnancy. I want to do it with dignity and on my terms.
Yes, I terminated the pregnancy because of the foetus defects for myself and for my family. So that I don’t fall apart into a million pieces after I see the baby die, suffering after the birth. So that my babies don’t lose their mother for years after I break down mentally. So that I can recover faster and start trying again to have another baby. I also wanted to say goodbye on my own terms.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that easy. In two weeks I visited several hospitals in different parts of Poland. In the region where I live in the east of Poland, NO hospital even pretended that is going to help me. Everyone stressed that they were aware that I had the right to do so, but that they would not help me exercise it. NOBODY LOOKED ME IN THE EYE WHEN THEY SAID THAT. Would I also hear “no, just no”, if I had come with another health issue? Will the health care in this country turn into a total lottery dependent on the goodwill of doctors in a moment?!
The clock was ticking: I kept hearing that after the 22nd week of pregnancy no one would do the termination procedure anymore. There were various methods of getting rid of me: first, the whole hospital signed a conscience clause on the same day; then I was asked to take the same tests but in another hospital; the other time, I was asked to provide a certificate from the National Consultant, and finally there was no chief who makes decisions and it was not known when it shows up… Someone told me that “I have no conscience”.
It was only possible thanks to the help of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. Nonetheless, in hospitals in central Poland, it was not easy either. Everyone wanted a written refusal from my local hospital. And who will voluntarily give evidence that they are not exercising somebody’s right? In one of the hospitals, I had to go through a forced psychological consultation. For a long time, they also kept me in the uncertainty as to whether they would take up the task and when. Eventually, the pregnancy was terminated.
I know that if the Constitutional Tribunal issues a verdict forbidding abortion due to foetal malformations, other women in a situation like mine will not even get a chance for medical help. They won’t be able to reflect and decide for themselves. I can’t believe it! I want to cry. I want to be with all those women who are afraid that the restrictive law will destroy their families’ lives and take away their dignity. I want to be with them just like there were no doctors with me who I hoped would support me.
All I ask for is respect and trust that we Polish women know what is good for our children, for our families. Politicians, leave us alone.