A demonstrator holds up an image showing the late Dorota Lalik on June 14, 2023, as people take to the streets in downtown Warsaw and other Polish cities to protest the nation's abortion restrictions. ​

A demonstrator holds up an image showing the late Dorota Lalik on June 14, 2023, as people take to the streets in downtown Warsaw and other Polish cities to protest the nation's abortion restrictions.

(Photo: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

'Haven't Enough of Us Died Yet?': Polish Protest Death of Woman Denied Abortion

"We want to raise the alarm: If you are pregnant this could happen to you, if you're not prepared to fight for your life," said organizers.

Abortion rights activists chanted "stop killing us" as they marched through several communities in Poland on Wednesday over the death of a pregnant woman who should have been offered a legal abortion, according to a government ombudsman.

In Poland, abortions are only permitted in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the health or life of a pregnant person. Since the October 2020 ruling that outlawed nearly all abortions in the European nation took effect the following January, protests have erupted in response to the deaths of pregnant women including Izabela in September 2021 and Agnieszka T. in January 2022.

The new demonstrations follow the death of Dorota Lalik last month. The 33-year-old, who was five months pregnant, sought medical care because her water broke. She was told to lie with her legs up and died of septic shock three days after being admitted to Pope John Paul II hospital in Nowy Targ.

The Associated Pressnoted that "it is a hospital in a deeply conservative region of the mostly Catholic nation. The hospital contains relics of the late Polish pope and Polish media have reported that it never performs abortions on principle."

"No one told us that we had practically no chance for a healthy baby… The entire time they were giving us false hope that everything will be OK… that [in the worst case] the child will be premature," Lalik's husband told Polish media, according toThe Guardian. "No one gave us the choice or the chance to save Dorota, because no one told us her life was at risk."

During a Monday press conference, Reutersreported, Bartlomiej Chmielowiec, the Polish patients' rights ombudsman, said that Lalik's "rights have been violated, the right to provide health services in accordance with current medical knowledge has been violated, the patient's right to having services provided with due diligence has been violated."

Politicopointed out that while Poland's health ministry announced Monday it had "appointed a team to develop guidelines for medical facilities on how to proceed in situations where there may be indications for termination of pregnancy," Lalik's death has provoked fresh calls for reviewing the law, including from the Polish Chamber of Physicians.

Lalik "is at least the seventh woman known to have died as a result of pregnancy complications since the tightening of the abortion law under a Constitutional Tribunal ruling in October 2020," reportedNotes From Poland.

As the Kraków-based outlet detailed:

Protests took place in around 40 towns and cities under the slogan "Not one more." Protesters waved placards saying "A state cursed, not blessed," "Pregnancy by choice, not by terror," and "Women's Hell." Some held up photographs and names of Dorota and other pregnant women who have died in hospital.

"Dorota from Nowy Targ is dead because Poland's anti-abortion law kills and makes doctors into political minions instead of healthcare experts," wrote the organizers of the protests. "Haven't enough of us died yet?"
"All pregnant women are in danger the moment they're referred to a Polish hospital," Marta Lempart, founder of the All-Poland Women's Strike, which organized many of the protests, toldThe Guardian. "We are afraid of all doctors, because we don't know which ones will act to prevent their patient's death."

Lempart tied Lalik's death to others in the past few years, and stressed that "it is difficult to say that this situation is just the fault of the government when doctors are refusing to perform abortions permitted by the law in cases when not only the health is endangered but even life."

"Since the protests in 2020 everybody in Poland knows the number to Abortion Without Borders," she said of a group that provides abortion pills. "But not everyone realized that if you're pregnant and you go to a Polish hospital you might not leave alive. That you have to go prepared; you need to have a number to a lawyer and contacts with the media ready, and you have to keep fighting and arguing and not believe a single word anyone says because you might not stay alive."

Poland's strict abortion policy has been sharply condemned across Europe and beyond—including in the United States, where reproductive rights are also under attack, particularly in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court reversing Roe v. Wade last year.

As U.S. states dominated by anti-choice Republican policymakers continue to enact new abortion restrictions, American patients are also enduring hospital experiences in which their lives are further endangered by doctors declining to provide legal care.

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