Poland: women's rights activists protest pregnant women's death from sepsis - after abortion laws tightened

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A 33-year-old woman has died in May in the Polish town of Nowy Targ after she developed sepsis during her pregnancy

Polish women's rights activists have staged a series of protests in the country, after a woman in her fifth month of pregnancy died from sepsis.

The 'Stop Killing Us' demonstrations are being held across the country, as activists claim doctors are putting the lives of foetuses over the lives of the women carrying them - after abortion laws were tightened in Poland. The demonstrating are calling for strict abortion laws to be relaxed, with protesters taking to the streets in almost 50 cities, including the capital of Warsaw.

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Rules around abortions in Poland became stricter in 2020, when the constitutional court ruled that women could no longer terminate pregnancies in the case of severe foetal deformities. Women are currently only permitted to terminate their pregnancy in the case of rape, incest, or if the if the pregnancy poses a threat to their life or health.

The death of the pregnant woman has created a conversation around abortion rights in Poland, with advocates calling for reform of the laws. Left-wing politicians have attempted to shed light on the issue, with one calling for the parliament to observe a moment of silence in the chamber for the latest victim - members of the right-wing ruling party did not stand.

What happened to the pregnant woman in Poland?

Dorota Lalik, 33, was admitted to the John Paull II Hospital in the town of Nowy Targ on 21 May after her waters broke only five months into her pregnancy. Medics at the hospital told Ms Lalik to lie with her legs up, in the hope that the fluid would be reconstituted around her body.

Polish women's rights activists have called for a change to strict laws after a woman in her fifth month of pregnancy died from sepsis last month. (Credit: AFP via Getty Images)Polish women's rights activists have called for a change to strict laws after a woman in her fifth month of pregnancy died from sepsis last month. (Credit: AFP via Getty Images)
Polish women's rights activists have called for a change to strict laws after a woman in her fifth month of pregnancy died from sepsis last month. (Credit: AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

However, she developed sepsis as a result, and she died three days after she was admitted on 24 May.

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The John Paul II hospital reportedly has an ethos rooted in its religious background, with relics of the Polish former Pope housed there. Local Polish media has also reported that doctors at the hospital have also historically not performed abortions on patients as a matter of principle.

The hospital is located in the southern region of Małopolskie Województwo. The province is noted to be a deeply conservative region of Poland.

Why are Polish women's rights activists protesting over the issue?

Activists in the country are calling for a change to the laws, under which a number women have lost their lives since they were introduced in 2020. Some argue that while doctors are prioritising foetuses over the women carrying the foetus, they are also doing so on personal ideological grounds or over fear of legal repercussions.

The country has seen cases of threatened pregnancies in which medical professionals have waited until the foetus no longer had a heartbeat rather than terminating the pregnancy outright.

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Polish liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza said that the so-called conscience clause which allows doctors to refuse to perform abortions on ideological grounds was being exploited by individual doctors as well as entire healthcare facilities. They argue that John Paul II hospital used this clause, which led to the death of Ms Lalik.

The Polish government has however said that the abortion laws were not the cause of Ms Lalik's death. Conservative politicians within the government have also accused campaigners of exploiting cases such as Ms Lalik's for their own political gain.

Poland's left-wing politicians have also waded into the issue, with one calling for the parliament to observe a moment of silence in the chamber for the latest victim on Wednesday. Members of the right-wing ruling party did not stand.

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