Jun 07, 2022
A new government database tracking people's pregnancies in Poland is sparking 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.
"First comes the ban, and then the mechanism for enforcement follows."
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski approved an ordinance last Friday expanding the kind of information that can be stored in a central database on patients, including allergies, blood type, and pregnancy status.
Tracking pregnancies in the country is necessary, Niedzielski claimed, so doctors know if a woman shouldn't receive certain medications or x-rays.
But in a country that banned abortion care in almost all cases in 2020--with exceptions theoretically in the case of health risks to the pregnant woman or of a pregnancy that results from rape or incest--Parliament member Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz said Tuesday 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 Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, another left-wing lawmaker. "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.
\u201cPoland has introduced a new law that will, among other things, make it more difficult to get around abortion laws by going to another EU country for the procedure: every doctor who becomes aware of a pregnancy, no matter under what circumstances, has to officially register it.\u201d— Elizabeth Schumacher (@Elizabeth Schumacher) 1654508175
Abortion Network Amsterdam, a network of volunteers in the Netherlands which provides financial and logistical support to people seeking abortions, said it would still "help each and everyone who is seeking abortion."
The register represents "another violent attack on sexual and reproductive rights in Poland," said international human rights advocate Annika Ojala.
\u201cAnother violent attack on sexual and reproductive rights in #Poland \ud83d\udc94\ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf1 \n\nThe \u2018pregnancy registry\u2019 would place anyone seeking pregnancy health care under surveillance.\n\nIt could be used to detect abortions, which already are under a near-total ban. #SRHR https://t.co/8azHvpD6CX\u201d— Annika Ojala (@Annika Ojala) 1654600083
Despite the Polish abortion 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 U.S. has also seen restrictions passed in a number of states in recent years and as the U.S. 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.
The Polish pregnancy register, said Pamela Merritt, executive director of Medical Students for Choice in the U.S., illustrates "the logical next step after abortion bans and criminalization."
"First comes the ban, and then the mechanism for enforcement follows," said Merritt.
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