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Poland tells doctors: Ailing women have abortion rights

(Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Health Ministry issued instructions Sunday to doctors confirming that it is legal to terminate a pregnancy when the woman’s health or life is in danger, a directive that comes amid apparent confusion over a new restriction to the country’s abortion law.

The document addressed to obstetricians comes in reaction to the hospital death of a 30-year-old mother whose 22-week pregnancy had medical problems. The woman died in September but her death became widely known this month. Doctors at the hospital in Pszczyna, in southern Poland, held off terminating her pregnancy despite the fact that her fetus lacked enough amniotic fluid to survive, her family and a lawyer say.

The doctors have been suspended and prosecutors are investigating.

Angered Poles held massive nationwide protests over the weekend, blaming the woman’s death on Poland’s restrictive abortion law. Women’s rights activists say it has chilling effect on doctors in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The protests continued for the second day Sunday, the largest one in Krakow, in the south. Thousands of protesters lit mobile phone lights and held a minute of silence in memory of the woman. They then walked to the headquarters of Krakow church authorities, chanting against Poland’s new abortion restriction.

The ministry stressed it is in line with the law to terminate a pregnancy when the woman’s health is in danger, even more so in case of threat to her life. It included guidance in case of premature loss of the amniotic fluid.

“It should be clearly stressed that doctors must not be afraid to take evident decisions. stemming from their experience and the available medical knowledge,” the ministry said.

Until a year ago, women in Poland could have abortions in three cases: if the pregnancy resulted from a crime like rape, if the woman’s health or life was at risk, or in the case of irreparable defects of the fetus. That last possibility was eliminated a year ago, when the Constitutional Tribunal ruled it went against Poland’s law.

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