London 17 May 2011 – New analysis published by the UK journal Reproductive Health Matters shows that the criminalisation of abortion in Poland has led to the development of a vast illegal private sector with no controls on price, quality of care or accountability. Since abortion became illegal in the late 1980s the number of abortions carried out in hospitals has fallen by 99%. The private trade in abortions is, however, flourishing, with abortion providers advertising openly in newspapers.

Women have been the biggest losers during this push of abortion provision into the clandestine private sector.  The least privileged have been hardest hit: in 2009 the cost of a surgical abortion in Poland was greater than the average monthly income of a Polish citizen. Low-income groups are less able to protest against discrimination due to lack of political influence. Better-off women can pay for abortions generating millions in unregistered, tax-free income for doctors. Some women seek safe, legal abortions abroad in countries such as the UK and Germany.

“In the private sector, illegal abortion must be cautiously arranged and paid for out of pocket,” says Agata Chełstowska, the author of the research and a PhD student at the University of Warsaw. “When a woman enters that sphere, her sin turns into gold. Her private worries become somebody else’s private gain”. The Catholic Church, highly influential in predominantly Catholic Poland, leads the opposition to legal abortion.

Since illegality has monetised abortion, doctors have incentives to keep it clandestine: “Doctors do not want to perform abortions in public hospitals,” says Wanda Nowicka, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “They are ready, however, to take that risk when a woman comes to their private practice. We are talking about a vast, untaxed source of income. That is why the medical profession is not interested in changing the abortion law.”


In several high profile cases, women and girls have been denied legal abortions following rape or because of serious health conditions and have been hounded by the media for seeking them. The 2004 case of a young pregnant woman who died after being denied medical treatment is currently under consideration at the European Court of Human Rights.

Other articles in this issue of Reproductive Health Matters focus on many aspects of health privatisation worldwide and include studies from Bangladesh, Turkey, Malawi, India, Madacascar and South Africa.

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For more information, contact: Pathika Martin, +44 (0) 207 267 6567  pmartin@rhmjournal.org.uk

About Reproductive Health Matters

Reproductive Health Matters is an international, peer-reviewed journal published twice a year. It offers analysis of reproductive health matters from a women-centred perspective. It is written by and for women’s health advocates, researchers, service providers, policy makers and those in related fields with an interest in women’s health.  Its aim is to promote laws, policies, research and services that meet women’s reproductive health needs and support women’s right to decide whether, when and how to have children.


Twitter: @RHMjournal

Attempts to make further restrictions regarding the law on abortion has been taken recently by the fundamentalist forces in Poland . A draft law introducing a complete ban on abortion was submitted to Polish Parliament, together with 450 thousand signatures of support collected mainly before or after Sunday masses. Polish abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe and even far more restrictive in practice than on paper. Although it allows for a pregnancy to be terminated under three conditions – including for therapeutic reasons and when it results from a criminal act – legal abortion is almost unavailable for women. Nevertheless, the fundamentalists and the Catholic Church still find the yearly number of 500 pregnancy terminations (in a nation of 10 mln women in reproductive age) unacceptable and are calling for further restrictions. Just few years ago the fundamentalist right wing politicians tried to introduce a provision protecting “life from the moment of conception” into the Constitution of Poland which failed narrowly.

The Human Life International Poland and the Human Life’s Friends Club on 17th of February called for signing a petition concerning the right of the Polish pharmacists to refuse to sell the contraceptives in pharmacies. The HLI Poland has created a special website where a support for the right of pharmacists to refuse to sell the contraceptives, called by HLI Poland “miscarriage pills”, can be expressed. This wording illustrates best how scarce is the knowledge about contraception in Poland , even among health professionals. Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning hot line operators report the lack of information and knowledge regarding difference between contraceptives, emergency contraception drugs and abortifacients. According to current regulations, pharmacies are obliged to sell all the drugs registered in the national drug registry. The anti-choice initiative is based on the resolution “The right to conscientious objection clause in the legal care” adopted by the Council of Europe last year and claims that pharmacists, as health care professionals, also have a right to use a conscientious objection.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning at www.federa.org.pl



Warsaw, 16th of December, 2010 r.




The Federation for Women and Family Planning is satisfied with the fact that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg has issued the judgment in the case A, B and C v. Ireland consistent with the Court’s judgment in the case Tysiąc v. Poland.

In the judgment issued on 16th of December the Court held that in case of the third applicant (the Irish citizen suffering from cancer who decided to have an abortion in UK because she feared that a pregnancy would negatively affect her health) there had been a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of  Human Rights concerning the right to private and family life. The violation occurred because Ireland did not provide the appropriate medical procedures which would guarantee to obtain a honest diagnosis of the patient’s condition as well as the knowledge about a threat posing to her life because of a pregnancy.

It is worth noting that the Court clearly stated that the doctors cannot deny a woman the access to patient information, appropriate examinations and diagnostic procedures that may provide her with decision-making power about the future of  her pregnancy.

The Irish anti-abortion law is very strict. However the Court emphasized in it’s verdict that correcting the national law in that field or judging whether this law is right in isolation from a specific actual state is not it’s task. But in the cases like A, B and C v. Ireland the Court considers to what extent the country’s legally binding law influences the applicants’ lives in the specific situations.

The case of the C applicant is very similar to the case of Alicja Tysiąc. Consequently, we have to acknowledge distinctly that the judgment in the case Tysiąc v. Poland was not an incidental event.

Today’s verdict against Ireland proves that the Court has taken a permanent stand on the similar cases and contrary to the accusations bringing up in the case of Alicja Tysiąc it was not politically-driven.

The European Court of Human Rights aside from judging in the cases of presumptive violation of the Convention, it also sets the certain interpretive standards concerning the human rights. The judgment in the case A, B and C v. Ireland confirms the interpretive standard for Article 8 about the right to private and family life, also in the context of the reproductive rights. The Court in it’s verdict emphasized that a phrase “private life” used in the Article 8 of Convention is a very wide term including autonomy, physical and mental integrity and right to personal development. It is inseparably connected with such aspects like sexuality and reproduction.

Wanda Nowicka


The President

Federation for Women and Family Planning

Beyond the Church’s Reach

Fleeing West from Poland’s Restrictive Abortion Laws

By Jan Puhl

Anti-abortion activists demonstrating in Warsaw.

An increasing number of Polish women are travelling to Germany for abortions. Even as Poland has modernized and become more European, its laws have failed to keep pace.

Having spent 40 years working as a gynecologist, Janusz R. was pretty sure he’d seen everything his job could throw at him. But recently, he was proven wrong.


A few weeks ago a pretty Polish woman came to see Dr. R. in the hospital in the German town of Prenzlau, not far from the Polish border. She was pregnant, but didn’t want to keep the baby. So far so normal. But the man who accompanied her was much more nervous than the men the doctor was used to seeing.


It wasn’t until after the abortion had been successfully carried out that the patient’s boyfriend became more talkative. “I’m a Catholic priest,” he confessed. He said his church was completely out of touch with the times, that Poland’s abortion legislation didn’t “reflect real life in Poland anymore.” R., who had himself been born in neighboring Poland, had never heard such words from a man of the cloth.

He has, however, heard it repeatedly from his patients. More and more women from Poland come to hospitals in Berlin, Prenzlau, Schwedt and other German towns near the border to have an abortion. R. estimates that about 600 such women have turned up at his offices alone this past year. In 2009, it was 400.

Whereas childless German women are heading east because there are no limits on the number of eggs Polish doctors are permitted to fertilize, implant or freeze, Polish women are fleeing to Germany because the law in their country only permits abortions if the mother’s health is at risk, if the fetus is severely deformed, in cases of incest, or following rape.

No Longer an Agrarian Hinterland

During communism, Poland’s abortion legislation was just as liberal as that of the rest of the Eastern bloc. But after 1989, the Polish parliament enacted one of the most restrictive laws in all of Europe. Many Poles are convinced it’s the government’s way of thanking the Catholic Church. After all, the church sheltered anti-communist opposition activists from the authorities for decades.

When Poland became a democracy in 1990, the country’s bishops wanted free, Catholic Poland to be a God-fearing country in which men and women only shared a bed if they were married and only had sex for the purpose of having babies. Poland, though, lies in the heart of Europe. Its economy is booming and it has long ceased to be the agrarian hinterland that it was just 30 years ago.

The result is that Poland’s abortion law is therefore at odds with the everyday lives of Polish women. More and more of them go to college and want to have a career. Statistics indicate that they are waiting longer and longer before having children. And they want to decide themselves when the time is right to become a mother.

Gynecologist R. studied medicine in the Polish city of Gdansk, emigrated to Sweden, and later came to Germany. He has worked as a medical director in top clinics in Stockholm and in the Ruhr Valley. Although he is retired, he can’t bring himself to hang up his white coat for good. “I love my job, and abortions are a necessary evil,” he says.

The Polish border is only 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, and has in any case been open since Poland adopted the Schengen Agreement in 2007. An abortion can be had in Prenzlau for about €400. The operation is carried out at cost.

Polish women, though, don’t only come to see Dr. R for abortions. Increasingly they want him to deliver their babies or perform regular checkups on their toddlers. Dr. R. offers the kind of gynecological support that still isn’t taken for granted in Poland’s towns and rural areas. In these areas, adolescent girls and women even have difficulties getting the contraceptive pill or other methods of birth control.

Part of a Shady World

“Polish women are much more self-assured than they used to be,” says R. “They bond with men they find sexually attractive, but do not want to marry.” R. has learned that Polish women want the same freedoms as their male compatriots.

Women’s rights activists estimate that as many as 200,000 illegal abortions are carried out in Poland every year. After-hours’ terminations at Polish hospitals, in doctors’ offices or even in private apartments cost about 8,000 zloty, or about €2,000. Gynecologists take out newspaper ads, though these don’t mention their name, just a telephone number. “We offer a full range of services,” runs the typical slogan. Illegal abortions are part of a shady world that everyone knows about, but no one wants to discuss.


Often enough doctors conduct their abortions without either an anesthetist or an assistant in attendance. Sometimes the patients are even required to hold the instruments during the operation. “The doctors are worried they will be discovered, and the women feel ashamed,” R. says. He would prefer them to bring their problems across the border to his hospital.


Dr. R. had four Polish women in his waiting room on one recent morning. He was able to convince one of them to reconsider. The second was due to return a short time later. The third, a 17-year-old schoolgirl, cowered in her bed, still looking a little pale. “All the girls in my class have sex,” she said. “Afterwards they go to confession.”

The fourth patient had come too late: She was already in the 19th week of her pregnancy. In Germany, abortions are only permitted until the 12th week. This patient will probably get back into her car and drive even further west. The Netherlands permit terminations until the 22nd week of gestation.


Parliamentary Hearing on Polish Abortion Tourism reveals the need for Change of Anti-Abortion Law. Polish restrictive 1993’s anti abortion law permitting abortions only if pregnancy results from criminal offence or the life of the mother was seriously threatened or if there was severe deformation of the fetus. The introduction of the law didn’t influence the reduction of number of abortion but led to development of abortion underground and abortion tourism.

The issue of abortion tourism was a topic of parliamentary hearing organized by Federation for Women and Family Planning. Invited guests, RH practitioners from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands , and UK highlighted one of the central characteristic of the phenomenon. In highly restrictive situations, class and socio-economic status play a huge role in whether or not a woman can access safe abortion. Only women who have financial resources can go to Western countries to obtain abortion. It is estimated that some 80, 000 – 200, 000 women undergo illegal abortion every year, and approximately 30, 000 women choose to cross the border in order to undergo a legal procedure. Although statistical data regarding abortion tourism, numbers provided by the speakers suggest the scale of the problem: for example, 400 abortions have been performed on Polish patients this year in German clinic near Polish border. The participants of the hearing underlined that the current abortion law is completely inadequate to meet the needs of women and girls seeking safe abortion care. Therefore, pregnant women and girls who are able to do are virtually forced to become abortion tourists. Although the term is often used in sexist and disparaging ways, what it really points to is that women’s reproductive health needs are being ignored. Women are too frequently being deprived of their right to access safe, compassionate, and professional abortion services close to home.

Source: http://www.federa.org.pl

6000 people according to the organizers participated to this march on mothers’ day 30th May. “Scores of young couples and families, who frequently traveled for the first time, animated joyfully the March.  The protesters fervently testified to their commitment to defend the life of every person from conception until natural death.

In this period of campaigning for the presidential election, the participants called candidates to remember the unborn and to resist the pro-abortion lobbies very active in Brussels.  Father Piotr Skarga Foundation and the Foundation PRO, organizers of the event, have sent a letter to presidential candidates about the law to prevent domestic violence, that affects the family institution. The family needs support, and the law should establish conditions for creating strong and lasting relationships.

The project of society built by Europe must ensure first and foremost the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to be born.  The parade in Warsaw was attended by several Polish MPs and candidates and pro-life activists from France (Droit de naître), United States (American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property), Germany (Kinder in Gefahr), Portugal and even Brazil.”

these informations are from the french anti-choice site: http://www.avortementivg.com/content/europe/succes-de-la-marche-pour-la-vie-la-famille-a-varsovie

Observers from Towarzystwo Rozwoju Rodziny commented, that the march was not very significant.

Every year one of nationalistic and catholic organization named “National Day for Life Foundation” is organizing a march  – demonstration which is called March for Life, or March of Life, or March for Life and Family – in different papers you could find different names. Usually they are meeting with very cold public reaction. People who organize it are related with Fronda – well known in Poland ultra catholic and nationalistic NGO related with extreme wing of Law and Justice party. (more…)

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