Polish health authorities said Monday that there was a violation of patient rights in the case of a woman who died of sepsis in the fifth month of pregnancy last month, a case that has gained scrutiny after a tightening of Poland’s already restrictive abortion law.
Poland’s health minister, Adam Niedzielski, also stressed that every woman whose life or health is threatened by her pregnancy has the right to an abortion.
He announced that he was appointing a team to examine the country’s guidelines on the termination of pregnancy, saying its members would include women.
“In Poland, every woman in the event of threat to health or life threat has the right to terminate a pregnancy,” Niedzielski said.
Dorota Lalik, 33, died on May 24 in the John Paul II hospital in Nowy Targ, a town in the conservative region of southern Poland. She arrived at the hospital after her waters broke and was told to lie with her legs up. She died of sepsis there three days later.
The ombudsman for patient rights, Bartlomiej Chmielowiec, said that the hospital had violated the patient’s rights.
A lawyer for Lalik’s family, Jolanta Budzowska, told the broadcaster TVN24 on Monday that the woman was not told that her chances of maintaining the pregnancy were minimal, and that she risked her life by not terminating the pregnancy. She said it was a case of medical malpractice.
Lalik’s is the latest case of a woman dying in a hospital that tried to maintain a pregnancy due to the presence of a fetal heartbeat until it was too late for the woman.
It comes following a controversial tightening of Poland’s already restrictive abortion law more than two years ago that led to mass protests in the country.
The constitutional court ruled in 2020 that women could no longer terminate pregnancies in cases of severe fetal deformities, including Down Syndrome.
Under the current law, women still have the right to abortion in cases where their life or health is threatened. However, women’s rights advocates warn that doctors are putting women’s lives at risk as they prioritize saving pregnancies over women, either for ideological reasons or fearing legal consequences for themselves.
Protests have been held across Poland in such cases, with another planned in Warsaw on Wednesday evening.
Conservative anti-abortion groups accuse the women’s rights advocates of exploiting cases like Lalik’s for political gain.