Pregnant woman’s death puts spotlight on Polish abortion law

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People place candles in tribute to a woman who died in the 22nd week of pregnancy, in Warsaw, Poland, Monday Nov. 1, 2021. Reproductive rights activists say the woman is the first person to die as a result of a recent restriction of Poland’s abortion law. People lit candles as they do each year on the All Saints’ Day holiday, when Poles visit cemeteries and mourn the dead.. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish hospital said Tuesday that doctors and midwives did everything they could to save the lives of a pregnant woman and her fetus in a case that has put the spotlight on a new restriction on Poland’s 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 fetus 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. Some who supported the new abortion restriction said there is no certainty that it led to the woman’s death and accused women’s rights activists of exploiting the situation.

The woman, identified only as Izabela, died in September but her case was only made public Friday, triggering protests in Warsaw, Krakow and elsewhere on Monday. 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 results from a crime like rape; if the woman’s life is at risk; or in the case of severe fetal deformities. But the Constitutional Tribunal, under the influence of 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 fetus with no chance of survival to die in the womb rather than perform an abortion.

The hospital where the woman died issued a statement Tuesday saying they were “joined in pain” with her loved ones and others mourning her, and insisted that its staff had done everything to save her and the fetus. The family lawyer said the woman 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 fetus. Doctors and midwives did everything in their power, they fought a difficult battle for the patient and her child,” said 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.”

A prominent member of the ruling party, Marek Suski, denied any connection to the court ruling.

“Medical errors occur … and unfortunately women sometimes still die in childbirth,” Suski said on state TV. “We do not wish this on anyone, but it certainly has nothing to do with any decision of the tribunal.”

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