Polish activists protest after woman’s death in wake of strict abortion law

A Polish hospital has said that doctors and midwives did everything they could to save the lives of a pregnant woman and her foetus in a case that has put the spotlight on the country’s new stricter abortion law.

The 30-year-old woman died of septic shock in her 22nd week of pregnancy. Doctors did not perform an abortion, even though her foetus was lacking amniotic fluid, according to a lawyer for the family.

Reproductive rights activists say she is the first person to die as a result of a recent restriction of Poland’s abortion law.

The woman, identified only as Izabela, died in September but her case was made public on Friday, triggering anger among some Poles and protests in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere on Monday evening. People lit candles for her in an evening vigil.

Before the new restriction, women in Poland could have abortions only in three cases: if the pregnancy resulted from a crime such as rape, if the woman’s life was at risk, or in the case of severe foetal deformities. The constitutional tribunal, which is influenced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, ruled last year that abortions for congenital defects were not constitutional.

Women’s rights activists say doctors in Poland now wait for a foetus with no chance of survival to die in the womb rather than perform an abortion.

The hospital where the woman died issued a statement on Tuesday saying they were “joined in pain” with her loved ones and others mourning her, and saying its staff had done everything to save her and the foetus. The family’s lawyer said she left behind a husband and a daughter.

“The only factor guiding the medical procedure was concern for the health and life of the patient and the foetus. Doctors and midwives did everything in their power, they fought a difficult battle for the patient and her child,” said the statement from the County hospital in Pszczyna in southern Poland.

The hospital added that prosecutors were investigating the case but said “all medical decisions were made taking into account the legal provisions and standards of conduct in force in Poland”.

An ultra-conservative organisation that lobbied for the abortion restriction, Ordo Iuris, faced accusations of responsibility for the woman’s death. Its president, Jerzy Kwaśniewski, said people should not jump to conclusions about what happened.

Both Kwaśniewski and Radosław Fogiel, a spokesman for Poland’s conservative ruling party, said that under the existing law a woman whose life was at risk had the right to legally terminate her pregnancy.

Fogiel said the ruling Law and Justice party did not plan to make changes to the abortion law due to the case.

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