Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Pregnant woman dies after doctors refuse treatment

A Polish woman has died after being repeatedly refused medical treatment for her colon condition. The reason numerous doctors turned her away: they were worried she might miscarry.

Edyta was denied treatment for her disease – which was exacerbated by her pregnancy – by successive doctors, with each refusing to explain the real reason for their decision: “that treating the disease could result in a miscarriage or could force an abortion”.

Because Edyta was not informed of the grounds on which healthcare providers were refusing to help her, she did not have the opportunity to seek out a doctor whose morals coincided with her medical needs, resulting in her untimely death.

This tragedy highlights exactly why the failure of the recent Council of Europe resolution to regulate conscientious objection is so devastating to women’s rights. The resolution would have established guidelines under which medical professionals could no longer deny women access to reproductive health services based on their personal objections.

The text of the final document now states that “no person and no hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion.” In other words, it is acceptable to object to an abortion on any grounds. But it doesn’t protect or provide alternatives to the women seeking a lawful medical procedure.

Though religious and ethical beliefs should be respected, when a person’s principles take precedence over a woman’s health, it is devastating to the pro-choice movement, and can have fatal results.

Following Edyta’s case, a European Court of Human Rights lawsuit against the Polish Government is currently being prepared by the Warsaw University Law Clinic, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and the Centre for Reproductive Rights. The lawsuit aims to ensure that Poland maintains enough healthcare workers who are willing to provide all legal health services and that patients get timely referrals. The suit also asks the court to prohibit hospitals and other institutions from invoking conscientious objection or using it to deny patients information or emergency care.