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Why thousands of people are protesting in Poland

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Trigger warning: Abortion 

Tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Poland over abortion rights, with protesters heard shouting phrases like “not one more” and “her heart was beating too”. The protests have been ongoing over multiple days, but what exactly triggered this? It has to do with abortion law and a recent death. 

Explain further, what is the law in Poland? 

In October last year, the Constitutional Tribunal made a ruling that meant a pregnant person can only receive an abortion in cases of rape or incest or when pregnancy threatens the person’s health or life. For multiple days after the ruling, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets with the protests being some of the largest in decades. 

An unlawful abortion can carry a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

So what has caused the widespread protests?

Over the past week, protests were again sparked in Poland following the death of a 30-year-old woman named Izabela. The woman died of septicaemia after doctors allegedly did not terminate her 22-week pregnancy, even though the fetus did not have the required amniotic fluid to survive. She died in September, but her death has only become known recently. 

Izabela went to the hospital in September during the 22nd week of her pregnancy after her waters broke. She reportedly sent a text message to her mother, “the baby weighs 485 grams. For now, thanks to the abortion law, I have to lie down. And there is nothing they can do. They’ll wait until it dies or something begins, and if not, I can expect sepsis”. A scan then showed the foetus was dead, and on the way to the operating table, Izabela’s heart stopped, and she could not be resuscitated. 

The family’s lawyer has claimed her death is a result of the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling, claiming the tighter restrictions meant her doctors waited too long to act. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, however, rejects this, suggesting it was a mistake from the doctors. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, “when it comes to the life and health of the mother … if it is in danger, then terminating the pregnancy is possible and the ruling does not change anything”. 

Last year, President Andrzej Duda proposed changing the law to make abortions possible in cases where the foetus was not viable, however, Parliament is yet to debate the bill.

If this article has brought up anything, there is always help available at Lifeline (24-hour crisis line) on 131 114.

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