WARSAW — A proposal by Poland’s health ministry to register every pregnancy — officially for medical purposes — has sparked public outrage in a country where getting an abortion is nigh-on impossible.
A decree drafted by the ministry in October, and made public this week by opposition MP Krzysztof Brejza, states that if a pregnant woman receives any kind of medical service, the fact of her pregnancy must be entered into the Medical Information System. This national database stores patients’ treatment records, largely to keep track of medications.
The proposed change, in theory, could allow authorities to track each pregnancy and determine whether it ends in the birth of a child. That in turn has raised concern that the registry could be used to trace whether a woman obtains an abortion.
“I demand explanations: Who initiated the change and what is its real purpose?” Brejza said in a tweet on Tuesday. The MP also asked the ministry of justice whether state prosecutors would be permitted access to the registry.
Poland’s right-wing government, led by the Law and Justice party (PiS), has put in place some of Europe’s strictest abortion laws while the government-controlled top constitutional court — officially an independent body — made it a crime a year ago to terminate a pregnancy in the case of fetal defects.
Abortion is now only permitted in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is in danger, but the recent death of a pregnant woman named Izabela showed that the line between legal and illegal termination could be blurry.
The death of Izabela, 30, in a hospital in Pszczyna, southern Poland, was the first to be publicly linked to the ruling. The case dates from September but was first reported in late October.
A lawyer representing the woman’s family said the medical decision to not carry out a possibly life-saving abortion was linked to the binding rules. Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets to protest over Izabela’s death.
The ministry of health argues it’s necessary to keep track of pregnancies in the Medical Information System, which is known by its Polish acronym SIM, to keep track of the medications an individual has received.
“[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 ministry said in a statement on the health care services platform e-zdrowie.
“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 [medical] services,” the statement added.
The ministry statement did not address public concerns that the database could be used to track whether a pregnant woman carries her baby to term.
“The authorities could use [the registry] to pursue women who go abroad to terminate a pregnancy, who would otherwise have no chance of giving birth in safe conditions,” Paulina Hennig-Kloska of the opposition group Poland 2050 told private broadcaster TVN24.
Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka of the Left, also speaking on TVN24, said: “The plan is to introduce a blanket ban on all abortions — even abroad. Women will be put under surveillance once a doctor puts their pregnancy into the registry.”