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In 2019, there have been 1100 pregnancy termination procedures performed in Polish hospitals. Embryopathological issues were the most frequently reported reason for having an abortion (1074). Up to 98% of all abortions are due to severe and irreversible damage to the fetus. Being the main premise for performing an abortion, embryopathological issues are the target of conservative circles and right-wing parties who want to erase it from the abortion act. Should they succeed, abortion in Poland would be de facto illegal.

While the overall percentage of abortions due to rape or incest is still rather low, the number of termination procedures caused by the pregnancy posing a considerable threat to the health or life of the mother went up from 25 cases in 2018 to 33 in 2019. However, as the activists from the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) point out, this only shows that facing a threat to their own life or well-being, women don’t want to risk an illegal refusal from Polish doctors, and decide to go abroad to have their pregnancy terminated in a safe way.

Accounting for 67% of all termination procedures, various kinds of genetic defects are still the main cause of abortions due to embryopathological issues. Other instances include somatic defects of one or many different bodily systems (33%), and prenatally diagnosed Down syndrome without any other co-existing somatic defects (25%).

Yet, as the Federation for Women and Family Planning points out, mere statistics fail to reflect the real state of affairs with regards to abortions. In a study conducted in 2013, the Public Opinion Research Center CBOS found that one in every three women experienced some kind of abortion- a fact largely ignored in the statistics.

- Most life situations that lead to the decision to terminate a pregnancy do not fit into one of the most repressive anti-abortion laws in Europe. According to our estimates, every year, about 100-150 thousand women and transgender people seek ways to safely terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In doing so, more often than not, they are left to their own devices- says the head of the federation, Krystyna Kacpura.

Other than the restrictive legal situation, the attitude of doctors and the medical staff is often the main factor that determines the availability of abortion in Poland. 90% of all public hospitals don’t provide their patients with legal and refundable services connected to the termination of pregnancy. Pointing to non-existent regionalization, concluding (incorrectly) that the deadline for an abortion had been exceeded, and multiplying the barriers to access both prenatal tests and the procedure itself, doctors often refuse to even receive patients. Public prosecutors, in turn, refuse to issue the necessary certificate stating that the pregnancy was caused by an illegal act.

-The report isn’t that surprising. We can identify a constant trend: regional inequalities in access, forced migration between provinces, and other barriers forcing people to seek help abroad. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is the fact that our state is using institutional violence. Contrary to its domestic and international commitments, for many years now, Poland has failed to create an efficient and effective system that would protect women’s right to access legal and safe abortions- services that are legal, refundable, and which every single public hospital with an obstetrics and gynecology ward has a DUTY to provide- says Liliana Religa, a member of the Federation for Women and Family Planning.

She adds: - Public institutions need to start working. Hospitals should follow a standardized procedure with regards to all patients to whom termination of pregnancy has been recommended. The National Health Fund and the Polish Commissioner for Patient’s Rights should put medial entities under regular scrutiny and hold them accountable for not fully committing to the recommendations of the contract or breaking the right of their patients to appropriate medical services information transparency. Removing abortion from the penal code is a necessary step to eliminate the chilling effect causing the medical staff to avoid the topic of abortion at all costs- usually at the expense of the patient.

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