Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A woman holds a picture of a woman who died due to Poland's abortion ban

A protester with a red lightning bolt displayed on her mask, the symbol of Poland's pro-abortion rights movement, holds a picture of Izabela Sajbor in Gdansk, Poland on November 28, 2021. Sajbor is one of at least six women who have died as a result of the country's abortion ban. (Photo: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Deadly Polish Abortion Ban Treats Women 'As Incubators,' Critics Say at EU Hearing

"The European Parliament must continue to put pressure on the Polish government and use all the tools it has, or more women will die," said one advocate.

Julia Conley

Reproductive rights advocates, attorneys, and family members of people who have died as a result of Poland's stringent abortion ban were among those who testified before the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday, calling on the body to take every available action to protect Polish people from "conservative politicians" whose ban has led to at least six deaths so far.

Barbara Skrobol, the sister-in-law of the late Izabela Sajbor, who died of sepsis in September 2021 because doctors refused to terminate her nonviable pregnancy, described Sajbor's harrowing last moments to European Union lawmakers.

"We were not [allowed] to visit her but received text messages from her saying the doctors were waiting for her fetus' heartbeat to stop," Skrobol said in her testimony. "Iza knew her life was in danger but was keen to live for her family. Just hours before she died, her last text message said, 'Women are being treated as incubators.'"

The family's lawyer, Jolanta Budzowska, told the parliament that Sajbor likely meant "that nobody cared about her life."

"The most important thing for everyone, including the doctors in the hospital, was firstly the life of the fetus, and secondly the legal situation of the doctors," Budzowska said.

"In the name of Izabela, Justyna, Ania, Marta who lost their lives and all women in Poland, this needs to stop immediately."

Skrobol noted that Sajbor, who was 30, left behind a young daughter, saying, "Let us not take away wives from their husbands and mothers from their children and continue fighting for our rights."

Sajbor, whose death sparked nationwide protests, died nearly a year after Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion care cannot legally be provided in the case of fetal abnormalities or nonviability. The government later ratified legislation stating that pregnant people can have abortions in cases of rape or incest—if they can prove they were assaulted—or if their life is in danger.

According to Kamila Ferenc, a lawyer at the Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA) in Warsaw, at least 70,000 pregnant people have been directly affected by Poland's abortion ban, including at least six who have died.

"Even accessing contraceptives is hard" under the law, Ferenc told Al Jazeera.

The E.U. Parliament adopted a resolution in November 2021 calling on Poland to lift the ban.

"It is important for the E.U. to call on Poland to lift this ban and also ensure that every E.U. nation gives women the right to undergo abortions," said Robert Biedron, a Polish lawmaker who chairs the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee, at the hearing. "This should be a part of the bloc's strategy on health and reproductive rights."

Biedron also noted that Ukrainian women who have sought refuge in Poland since Russia invaded their home country have suffered under abortion laws that are far more stringent than Ukraine's.

He told Al Jazeera "that the E.U. should consider including a clause to let them seek abortion services freely in every E.U. country as a part of the bloc's temporary protection directive, which gives Ukrainians the right to live and avail medical care, work opportunities, and education till 2024 in the E.U."

Caroline Hickson, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, told parliament that the E.U. must also work to protect pro-abortion rights advocates who have protested the ban and have been penalized for doing so.

"Many women like Marta Lempart, who are leading the Polish Women's Strike, have been slapped with charges for protesting the government's laws," said Hickson, naming the founder of the country's recent pro-choice movement, who has 80 pending legal cases against her according to Human Rights Watch. "The right to peacefully protest needs to be protected in the E.U."

"The European Parliament must continue to put pressure on the Polish government and use all the tools it has, or more women will die," Hickson added.

The Party of European Socialists (PES), which has 145 members in the European Parliament, called Poland's ban "barbaric" and demanded that the body hold the country's far-right Law and Justice Party accountable.

"In the name of Izabela, Justyna, Ania, Marta who lost their lives and all women in Poland, this needs to stop immediately," said PES.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·


Betrayal of Railway Workers Ignites Working-Class Fury Toward Biden and Democrats

"Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic," said one rail leader. "Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class 1 rail carriers every time."

Jessica Corbett ·


With GOP House Control Looming, Pascrell Calls for Swift Release of Trump Tax Records

"Donald Trump tried to hide his tax returns from our oversight but after 1,329 days we have finally obtained the documents," said the New Jersey Democrat. "We should review and release them."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo