The woman sought medical help in the north-eastern Polish province of Podlaskie but hospitals refused to terminate her pregnancy, citing the controversial "conscience clause."
Being a source of tension between pro-choice and pro-life proponents, the conscience clause is a provision in law which allows medical professionals and institutions to refuse to perform or assist in certain medical procedures on grounds of conscience or religious beliefs.
This means that doctors have a right to refuse to perform abortions, and that the government cannot force them to do otherwise. However, in case of emergency or when life is in danger, the provision of medical care should be given anyway.
In response to the public uproar, Poland’s deputy health minister, Waldermar Kraska, said that since it was a rape, it is clear that abortion is permissable. However, when asked if the hospitals made a mistake in refusing pregnancy termination, he replied that "it is difficult to say unequivocally at this time,” adding that the ministry's lawyers will look into the case.
The situation sent shock waves across the country, with the woman now set to undergo a pregnancy termination procedure in the capital city of Warsaw.
Chairperson of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, Krystyna Kacpura, who helped arrange the abortion, said that the 24-year-old "knew she was pregnant but didn’t know what that means."
The Polish Patient Ombudsman Paweł Grzesiewski underlined that the conscience clause allows for refusals to be made by individual doctors, not by entire hospitals.
"A refusal to provide this service must be recorded in the medical documentation, so it is not the case that upon arrival the patient is immediately informed 'such procedures are not performed here,'" Grzesiewski said.
Poland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. In October 2020, a high court consisting mainly of judges appointed by the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, outlawed abortion on the grounds of foetal defects, effectively banning pregnancy termination in the country with the exception of certain extreme cases, such as rape or incest.
The ruling sparked widespread protests, with demonstrations in the capital city of Warsaw alone drawing more than 100,000 people at their peak on October 30, 2020.
Source: PAP, TVN24