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Poles protest strict abortion law after woman dies

November 6, 2021

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets after the death of a 30-year-old pregnant woman. Activists have said she lost her life because of Poland's near-total ban on abortion.

A woman carries a banner that reads, "I'm scared to live in Poland."
Protesters say a woman who died would still be alive if the abortion law wasn't so strictImage: JAKUB ORZECHOWSKI/Agencja Wyborcza/REUTERS

Protests against Poland's restrictive abortion laws rocked Warsaw and several other cities on Saturday. 

Under Polish law, abortion is only allowed if the pregnancy is life-threatening for the mother, or if it is a result of rape or incest.

Protesters honor woman's death

Tens of thousands of protesters shouted for one minute in commemoration of the death of a pregnant woman, according to Polish broadcaster TVN24. 

Protesters switch on the flashlight on their phones as they gather around candles organized in a heart-shape
Protests were also held in Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw, Bialystok and in many other citiesImage: JAKUB ORZECHOWSKI/Agencja Wyborcza/REUTERS

The woman, named only as Izabela, died in September at the age of 30, but her death only became known last week. 

Her family said doctors at the hospital where she died had refused to terminate her 22-week pregnancy although her fetus lacked enough amniotic fluid to survive.

The doctors at the hospital in the southern town of Pszczyna "took a wait-and-see attitude," the family said, attributing it to "the rules in effect limiting the possibility of a legal abortion."

Under the motto of "Not One More" woman to die, protesters gathered before Poland's Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw and marched to the Health Ministry.

What is Poland's abortion law?

Unlawful abortion in Poland can carry a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

Last year, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal sided with the ruling pro-Catholic populist Law and Justice (PiS) party and ruled that abortions carried out due to irreversible congenital disabilities, including Down syndrome and fetal defects, were illegal under the constitution.

The ruling, which came into effect in January, tightened the already strict restrictions on abortions. The NGO Abortions Without Borders said it has helped 34,000 Polish women get abortions abroad since the ban came into effect.

A coalition of 14 rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said after the ruling that "women, girls, and all pregnant people have faced extreme barriers to accessing legal abortions."

Rights groups have called on the European Commission to take action against Poland. The Polish Constitutional Tribunal is already at the center of a rift between Warsaw and Brussels, which deepened after it ruled against the supremacy of EU laws last month. 

This woman defied Poland's anti-abortion laws

fb/nm (AFP, AP, dpa)