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Poland’s plan to register all pregnancies sparks concerns

Warsaw, Poland – Poland’s Health Ministry proposed a plan to officially register each pregnancy, Politico reported, sparking concerns the move would amount to putting pregnant Polish women “under surveillance” and be used to crack down on abortions performed abroad.

The decree, drafted in October by the Polish Ministry of Health, was made public last week by opposition MP Krzysztof Brejza (PO).

Under the proposed changes, pregnant women in Poland who receive any kind of medical care would have to have their pregnancy registered into the Medical Information System (SIM), a national database used to keep track of patients’ medical records.

“The goal is to avoid prescribing medicines that are not recommended during pregnancy and, in the case of providing life-saving treatment, in the event of inability to obtain information from the patient,” the Health Ministry said.

“In addition, the use of information about pregnancy is necessary to verify additional services, such as receiving free medication or the right to priority access to health services.”

But critics have raised concerns the move would put pregnant Polish women under surveillance from health authorities, who would be able to know whether they ended up giving birth or receiving an abortion.

“I demand explanations: Who initiated the change and what is the real purpose?” Brejza tweeted.

While Poland already had one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, a court ruling last year made it illegal to have an abortion in cases of fetal defects, introducing a near-total ban on abortions which are now only permitted in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.

As a result, many Polish women opt for unsafe clandestine abortions, or travel abroad – including to Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, or Austria – to terminate their pregnancy.

Both cases could, under the mandatory registration proposed by the Polish Health Ministry, be tracked down and monitored. It remains unclear, however, whether state prosecutors would be able to access the registry.

“The authorities could use [the registry] to pursue women who go abroad to terminate a pregnancy,” warned opposition lawmaker Paulina Hennig-Kloska (Poland 2050).

Earlier this year, Polish officials had urged authorities in neighbouring Czech Republic to take measures to put an end to “abortion tourism” and keep Polish women from terminating their pregnancy across the border. The request was dismissed by the Czech government.

The death, in September, of 30-year-old Izabela in southern Poland after doctors postponed a potentially life-saving abortion, was the first to appear linked to the ruling, drawing tens of thousands of Poles in the street to protest the government’s restrictions.

Several European countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, have already proposed plans to fund and facilitate abortions for Polish women unable to receive such operations at home.