Globally, there are approximately 99 million unintended pregnancies and 25 million unsafe abortions every year. Many of these abortions result in needless suffering, mental anguish, social ostracization, and even death.
It may come as a surprise then that many still to this day — and despite the obvious harm illegal abortions cause — further stifle the global quest to provide women with the safety they deserve when accessing legal abortion in their home country.
The most recent case of stifled progress that has gained international attention is from Poland.
Poland has already had some of the most strict abortion laws in Europe. Women were only allowed to access abortion under these conditions:
- a fetal abnormality
- to protect the mother’s life
Because of the religious demographics in Poland, there are many social factors that also come into consideration when accessing abortion. For example, doctors in Poland can even refuse to perform legal abortions based on religious grounds. Elsewhere in the West, this seems absurd.
In October 2020, however, the situation got much worse.
The Constitutional Tribunal ruled abortion on the basis of fetal defect illegal and unconstitutional. With these new developments, Leah Hoctor reports that Poland is the only EU member state that has removed “any ground” for legal abortion from its law.
Many have tackled the recent rejection of guaranteeing reproductive rights to the people of Poland by the conservative government. I wanted to reiterate some of these same notions and garner some further attention on the situation.
“Today’s judgement puts the health and lives of women in Poland at great risk and violates Poland’s obligations under international human rights treaties to refrain from retrogressive measures that roll-back women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health care.” — Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights
First, what happened and what are the ramifications?
News outlets frequently report on the absurd legal penalties people who seek/assist in abortions face. I reported on one such case last year in Morocco. Similar absurdities are occurring in Poland. But … the question is, why? Why is it the case that in an age where we empirically know that abortion must be safe and legal in order to protect the lives of innocent citizens, reproductive rights are instead delegitimized by Tribunals and Top Courts (overtly in conservative countries)?
In an age where many have access to countless sources and neverending streams of media, ignorance is still maintained by some of the most important figures in the world.
Most of the abortions performed in Poland are due to said abnormalities. This is not a coincidence. Polish officials know that if they make these abortions illegal, they will reduce the number of abortions dramatically. In effect, this is a majority ban on abortions in Poland.
Unsurprisingly, hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest the conservative government’s decision. It has only been a month or so and the spotlight on Poland has lessened. However, the ramifications remain.
Many who discuss reproductive rights, seem to disregard the real lives and the real ramifications of making abortion illegal. In fact, laws that restrict women’s access to abortion do not do anything productive or helpful to otherwise law-abiding citizens. It is not a secret by now — and it has been reported on ad infinitum — that even when abortions are illegal, they still occur but under unsafe conditions.
These policies simply make it more difficult for women to access abortion, but they still do so, risking their own lives and the lives of the fetus inadvertently. Hence, the ideal and logic to “protect human life” is not guaranteed, ironically, and unfortunately.
In the words of Margaret Wurth,
When abortion is heavily restricted or banned, women from poor, rural and marginalized communities suffer most, as they may not be able to afford to travel to places where abortion is legal, or pay what it costs.
In her article, “What Life is Like When Abortion is Banned,” Wurth argues that 8 to 11 percent of maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortion. In fact, every 8 minutes a woman in developing countries dies from an unsafe abortion. When the access is unsafe, the likelihood of death increases dramatically.
Some reports estimate a much lower percentage of deaths. In Brazil, where abortion is also illegal, 250,000 women are hospitalized due to complications that arise because of abortion with about 200 dying each year. We also have good reason to suppose that the ratio of deaths is inaccurate because families rarely report on the actual reason for the passing of the mother.
Poland’s ruling also has ramifications for the policies of neighboring countries in Europe with conservative leanings. Many countries may see Poland’s hasty acts as precursors to being able to enact similar policies in their own countries. With Amy Coney Barrett’s recent appointment into the U.S. Supreme Court by the former American president, Donald Trump, many in America are also concerned.
The world seems to be regressing into the politicization of the 1980s and 90s of abortion in America. The recent adoption of the Global Gag Rule, impacting more than $8.8 billion in foreign aid to family planning and abortion, but even beyond that, has not helped. Marcella Cage explains, “Under Trump’s Global Gag Rule, organizations that receive U.S. health assistance are not even allowed to discuss the health risks of unsafe abortion with their patients.” This means that people are more reckless and more willing to risk their own because of inaccess to verified safe information about abortion.
Countries like Nepal understood the health ramifications of illegal abortion because of the all-too-common maternal diseases and deaths in the country and decided to legalize it. The attempt was largely successful. Policies like this have hit them the hardest. Clinics in Nepal have lost more than $26 million of U.S. funding annually. In fact, funding has decreased across the Globe because of this policy.
More women seek unsafe abortions. And more women die. In fact, nearly 7 million women have unsafe abortions each year and around 30,000 of them die.
The people of Poland realize this and they rightly protest. I will be updating this story/ providing further links when new developments arise. But we should be following this story closely because it does have ramifications for our countries as well. Similar events can happen and the way Poland faces this challenge can dictate the way we face it as well.
Hopefully, as with the overtly Catholic Ireland two years ago, we are witnessing the beginning of the end to ignorant and harmful policies that restrict women. Until then, raising awareness, protesting, and spreading healthy discourse will help bolster the cause of safe abortions worldwide.
Before you go…
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I write to keep you thinking and to keep me thankful and reflective. Cheers and until next time,