In Poland, opposition MPs criticize 'pregnancy register'
June 11, 2022
Poland's health minister recently signed an order that will oblige medics to register all pregnancies in Poland. Opponents fear it will lead to further clampdowns on abortions in the conservative country.
Polish abortion laws are already among the strictest in the European Union and a new measure to record all pregnancies in Poland will exacerbate the situation for women, say critics. Early this month, Polish Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an order that requires doctors to add more data to the country's Medical Information System, including whether a person is pregnant.
A first draft of the order had already surfaced in 2021, triggering fierce resistance. Opposition leader Donald Tusk, of the Civic Platform party, criticized the plan and said that the ruling Law and Justice, or PiS, party was obsessed with control and coercion.
Another member of Tusk's party, Tomasz Grodzki, who is also leader of the Polish Senate, wondered aloud whether one should compare the number of pregnancies with the number of births in order to track illegal abortions.
However, the idea did not. The United Right coalition, which includes PiS and the Solidarity Poland party and which has been in power since 2015, did not write off the idea.
The Catholic Church, which has been instrumental in making the country's abortion laws some of the most restrictive in Europe, has a lot of influence on these conservative parties. Currently, a woman in Poland can only resort to abortion if her health or life is endangered or the pregnancy is the result of a rape.
The order to register pregnancies is now set to come into force in mid-June, two weeks after its signing, but transmission of the data will only become mandatory from October 1.
At a debate in the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, this week, Waldemar Kraska, a deputy health minister and PiS member, defended the measure. "We are not establishing a pregnancy register," he insisted. "We just want medical professionals to have the widest possible access to data about each individual patient so as to provide them with the best medical help and to avoid all possible harm." He also accused the opposition of "spreading lies."
"I don't think I have to explain to the doctors in this house how important it is to know whether a sick woman is pregnant or not," he said, explaining that the medical register had been expanded to include information about implants, blood types and allergies too.
Health ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz even argued that the register had been expanded on the basis of recommendations from the European Commission. He said it would help to provide better protection to patients on foreign trips.
Politician Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak from the Lewica, or Left, party, which requested the debate in the Sejm, said that "a pregnancy registry in a country with an almost complete ban on abortion is terrifying."
She argued that a registry could be used for "either good or bad purposes" but in the hands of a power that had made the lives of women hell, had restricted to right to legal abortion and refused contraception in cases of emergency, such an instrument could prove problematic.
Barbara Nowacka from the Civic Platform pointed out that young Polish women no longer wanted to have children because they were afraid of the state. She said that in her opinion, the registry would likely be used as "an instrument of intimidation."
The birthrate has been declining steadily in Poland. Only 23,000 children were born in February of this year, the lowest number in a single month since World War II.
Michal Gramatyka from opposition party, Poland 2050, said that such a register could make sense in a "normal" country but not in Poland. Referring to the growing powers of authorities in Poland, he asked a rhetorical question: "How can we believe that only doctors will have access to this information?"
In Thursday's edition of the left-liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily newspaper, an editorial by local author, Katarzyna Wezyk, tried to reassure by pointing out that even after the measure came into force, women would not face punishment under any law in the event of a spontaneous abortion or an artificial termination of pregnancy.
"If this registry was designed as an instrument of pressure, then it has no teeth," she wrote. "Despite the efforts of anti-choice organizations, Poland is not a second El Salvador."
A woman who loses her child faces up to 30 years in jail in the Central American state. In Poland, a woman who undergoes an abortion cannot be punished under current laws. However, there ARE prison sentences of up to three years for those who perform an abortion illegally, assist in an illegal abortion or persuade a woman to undergo an abortion.