Poland’s Ministry of Health issued a statement Sunday clarifying that an abortion may be performed when the mother’s life is at risk.
The statement comes after protests in several cities across the country after a lawyer suggested its abortion laws are to blame for the death of a 30-year-old woman who died when she was 22-weeks pregnant.
“In the event of a situation that threatens the life or health of a woman (e.g. suspected infection of the uterine cavity, hemorrhage, etc.), it is lawful to terminate the pregnancy immediately,” the statement says, referring to a law passed in 1993, which permitted abortions in cases of rape or incest; if the mother’s life or health was at risk; or fetal abnormality.
In their Nov. 7 statement, the Ministry of Health said it “must be strongly emphasized that doctors must not be afraid of making obvious decisions based on their experience and available medical knowledge.”
In October 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion of a child with fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. The revision to the law went into effect Jan. 27, when the ruling was published in the country’s Journal of Laws.
The woman, known only as Izabela, died of sepsis Sept. 22 at a hospital in Pszczyna. Her fetus lacked amniotic fluid, and she experienced complications throughout her pregnancy, according to one report.
The family’s lawyer, Jolanta Budzowska, argued that tighter restrictions on abortion in Poland since the October 2020 ruling resulted in doctors “waiting for the baby to die,” instead of performing an abortion.
“We express our sincere expressions of sympathy and regret to the family of the deceased patient,” said the management of the hospital in Pszczyna in a statement.
Silent protests against the ban on abortions were held in Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk Nov. 1, in response to the lawyers accusations. According to BBC, the hospital said its decisions were based on concern for the mother and child.
The hospital in Pszczyna agreed to “full openness to cooperation with all competent authorities” during the investigation, and reported that the two doctors who were on duty during the patient’s care have been suspended while the situation undergoes review.
When Poland’s current law went into effect in January 2021, the Constitutional Tribunal asserted that “an unborn child is, as a human being—a person who enjoys innate and inalienable dignity, a subject who has the right to life; and the legal system must, according to Article 38 of the Constitution, must guarantee due protection for this central good, without which this subjectivity would be deleted.”
Prior to the ruling—which cannot be appealed—data from the Ministry of Health showed that the likelihood of Down syndrome accounted for 40% of abortions.