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10 Nov, 2009 08:02

Polish woman nearly blind due to strict abortion laws

The international human rights platform states a woman has a right to control her body, sexuality and reproduction, but whether it includes the right for an abortion is understood differently in different states.

Alicja has suffered from eyesight problems since childhood. When she became pregnant for the third time, doctors told her the stress of giving birth could cause irreparable damage to her eyes.

Alicja had a tough choice to make – either lose her unborn baby or her sight. She decided on an abortion.

“A doctor signed papers that said giving birth would be risky, but then the other doctor refused to make an abortion with no explanation given. I had to give birth and now my eyesight has decreased to minus 27. I’m now classified as a disabled person,” says Alicja Tysciac, an abortion rejection victim.

According to Polish law, a woman is only eligible for an abortion if giving birth is either damaging to one’s health or poses a threat to her life.

This is why Alicja felt the refusal was unjust and filed a lawsuit against the authorities in the European Court of Human Rights.

The near-blind woman was awarded over $30,000 in compensation. Alicja’s story rocked Poland, exposing a flaw in a 1993 abortion law – one of the toughest in Europe.

Poland, along with a third of the EU, is a Catholic country. However, it is only one of four states across the continents that have strict legal regulations concerning abortions. And many say this is because the Roman Catholic Church holds a unique position there.

The church in Poland says that it follows the universal teaching of the Catholic Church worldwide, and that in a country like Poland, where every fourth family has fertility problems, a ban on abortion is vital.

“Many countries around the world allow abortion. We, Catholics, cannot allow that. What kind of values do we hold on to? We can hold on to the values of death and we can hold on to the values of life. The Roman Catholic church will always hold on to the values of life,” says Wieslaw Dawidowski, Pastor at an English-speaking Catholic community.

If this is the case, why do other EU Catholic countries allow it? This is the question which bewilders the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning. They say that in fact this strict legislation backfires on the country’s women.

“Abortions in reality moved to so-called abortions underground, and they are performed broadly, which of course brings risks to women's health. Some women prefer to go abroad, because abortions abroad might not necessarily be more expensive than those provided in the Polish abortion underground,” says Wanda Nowicka from the Federation for Women and Family Planning.

According to the Federation, last year Poland recorded 500 legal abortions, while over 200,000 women performed them in private clinics and abroad – mostly in neighboring Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

Alicja knows her sight cannot be saved and it will only get worse. At the same time, she is happy that she kept her child. However, she believes that, when faced with risks like her own, every woman deserves a choice.