POLAND: Police intervention against woman taking abortion pills triggers outcry

Extract of article published by Notes on Poland on 19/07/2023 – accessible here.

Police intervention against a woman hospitalised after taking abortion pills has caused an outcry in Poland. Opposition politicians have condemned the incident – parts of which were caught on film – and called for the dismissal of the chief of police.

Officers are said to have surrounded the woman, who was reportedly ordered to undress, do squats and cough even though she was still bleeding. They also seized the woman’s computer and phone.

Although Poland has some of Europe’s strictest abortion laws, terminating one’s own pregnancy is not a crime. But the police have argued that their intervention was necessary to check whether someone had assisted the woman in terminating her pregnancy, which is an act punishable by up to three years in prison.

The woman, named only as Joanna, was admitted to the emergency ward of Krakow’s Military Hospital at the end of April due to her poor physical and mental state after she had called her doctor and admitted taking abortion pills. The doctor had then called the emergency services.

“The word ‘abortion’ set in motion a sort of almost manhunt,” Joanna told broadcaster TVN. She said that, although she had dreamt of having a child, she decided to terminate her pregnancy after being told it was a threat to her life. It remains unclear who told her this and on what basis.

Shortly after the call with her doctor, an ambulance and a police car appeared in front of Joanna’s house. After she was taken to hospital, female police officers entered the examination room with her and she was asked to undress.

“A cordon was formed around the patient, it made our work difficult,” one of the doctors working at the ward that day told TVN under the condition of anonymity. “They were unable to state why this patient was being detained by them.”

Joanna’s lawyer, Kamila Ferenc, told newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that they have filed a complaint against the officers and received confirmation from a court that their actions were unlawful. Ferenc is now preparing to file a claim for compensation.

Following yesterday’s report on the incident by TVN, Kraków’s police force issued a statement saying that the intervention was made because it was suspected that Joanna had been assisted in having an abortion, which is a crime.