Poland sets up ‘terrifying’ pregnancy register after banning abortion

June 9, 2022
A protest against Poland's abortion ban in December 2020. Photo: Silar/Wikimedia Commons

A new government database tracking people’s pregnancies in Poland has sparked fears that medical data will be used to prosecute women who obtain abortion care in other countries or by getting abortion pills through the mail, and potentially to target women who have miscarriages.

Health minister Adam Niedzielski approved an ordinance on June 3, expanding the kind of information that can be stored in a central database on patients, including allergies, blood type and pregnancy status.

Niedzielski claimed that tracking pregnancies in the country is necessary so that doctors can determine know if a woman should receive certain medications or x-rays.

But in a country that banned abortion care in almost all cases in 2020 — with theoretical exceptions in the case of health risks to the pregnant woman or of a pregnancy that results from rape or incest — MP Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz said on June 7 that the register would be used to “persecute and control Polish women”.

“Polish women no longer get pregnant for fear of being forced to give birth in any situation. The reasons for fear have just arrived,” said left-wing MP Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk. “The pregnancy registry in a country with an almost complete ban on abortion is terrifying.”

The register will make it more difficult for Polish women to get around the abortion ban by ordering medication to induce an abortion or to travel to other European countries for care, as many have since the law was passed, said journalist Elizabeth Schumacher.

Abortion Network Amsterdam, a network of volunteers in the Netherlands that provides financial and logistical support to people seeking abortions, said it would still “help each and everyone who is seeking abortion”.

International human rights advocate Annika Ojala said the register represents “another violent attack on sexual and reproductive rights in Poland”.

Despite the ban’s exception for women whose lives or health are at risk, at least two women have died in recent months because they were denied abortion care.

Poland’s rollback of abortion rights comes as the United States has also seen restrictions passed in several states in recent years, and as the US Supreme Court is expected to overturn Roe v Wade in the coming weeks — a move which would render abortion illegal in more than 20 states.

Pamela Merritt, executive director of Medical Students for Choice in the US, said the Polish pregnancy register illustrates “the logical next step after abortion bans and criminalization”.

“First comes the ban, and then the mechanism for enforcement follows.”

[Reprinted from Common Dreams.]

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