A 30-year-old woman who was 22 weeks pregnant died on September 22, 2021, at the Pszczyna County Hospital. On admission, PROM was diagnosed, and fetal malformations were confirmed. The fetus died while in the hospital. In addition, the patient died after less than 24 hours in the hospital. Septic shock was the cause of death. The deceased left behind a husband and a daughter. The case was turned over to the prosecutor’s office.
The Polish public learned about it last Friday (Oct. 29) when attorney Jolanta Budzowska published the following entry on Twitter:
This is the practical outcome of the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on October 20, 2020. PROM was diagnosed in a 22-week-old patient. Doctors did nothing but watch the fetus die. When the fetus died, so did the patient. Septic shock was the cause of the woman’s death. I spent the entire day Friday at the District Attorney’s Office. Everyone have a wonderful weekend! It’s time to res
Konsekwencje wyroku TK z 20.10.2020 r., sygn. K 1/20 w praktyce. Pacjentka 22 tydz., bezwodzie. Lekarze czekali na obumarcie płodu. Płód obumarł, pacjenta zmarła. Wstrząs septyczny. Piątek spędziłam w prokuraturze. Dobrego weekendu, czas na reset. pic.twitter.com/vAzwGAQ1ix
— Jolanta Budzowska (@JolBudzowska) October 29, 2021
Social media has exploded.
Protests were organized, and many people paid their respects to the woman who was sacrificed on the altar of Polish Catholic fundamentalism. The candles were placed in front of the Constitutional Tribunal’s office in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. This institution issued a decision last year that resulted in the tightening of what was already one of Europe’s most stringent laws. According to the woman’s family and lawyer Jolanta Budzowska, the woman was 30 years old when she died of septic shock as doctors waited for her fetus to die rather than removing it sooner, even though it was only a matter of time.
Jolanta Budzowska stated the following in an interview for the Polish daily paper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna when asked if it was a medical error or compliance with the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision on the abortion ban:
The doctor cannot hide behind the law by claiming that abortion is prohibited; he only must save lives, so the doctor’s actions will always be scrutinized for medical error in the first place. However, the legal environment in which we are now operating as a result of the court’s decision cannot be overlooked. These incidents remind me of a similar situation that occurred in Ireland. In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died there. Staff at a Galway hospital refused to perform an abortion, despite the fact that the baby would have died anyway. The woman gave birth and then passed away. There were medical errors in the treatment, but no one could deny that the restrictive abortion law and the doctors’ fear of legal liability for putting the mother’s life ahead of the fetus’s life contributed to her death. Although, according to the Irish Supreme Court’s interpretation, termination of pregnancy was permissible in the case of a real and substantial threat to the woman’s life, the chilling effect worked in practice. Following her death, a social movement in Ireland resulted in a referendum and a change in the law. These stories are also an illustration of the problem that has arisen as a result of the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision in Poland. The Tribunal’s decision gave Polish women and doctors the option of performing a legal abortion in two situations: when the pregnancy poses a threat to the pregnant woman’s life and health, or when there is a reasonable suspicion that it is the result of a prohibited act (e.g. rape). On the other hand, severe, irreversible disability, fetal damage, or a disease directly threatening the fetus’s life (embryopathological premise) are no longer legal grounds for pregnancy termination.
According to the family’s official statement, the pregnant woman was admitted to the hospital with a viable pregnancy due to amniotic fluid drainage. According to the family’s information, the pregnant woman reported to family members and friends in messages sent during her stay that the doctors took a wait-and-see attitude. They didn’t empty the uterine cavity until the fetus died, which she linked to current laws that limit legal abortion options. “The fever is rising; I’m hoping I don’t get sepsis or I won’t leave here,” she wrote to her family.
Of course, we didn’t have to wait long for the right-wing circles in Poland to react. Ordo Iuris, a fundamentalist legal organization comprised of extremist Catholic lawyers, warns against “political exploitation of this death” and threatens legal action against those who “will engage in abuses in this matter.” When journalists from Radio ZET (a large and popular radio station in Poland) questioned an important politician of the ruling party, one Marek Suski, he said: “Women can die during childbirth. This has nothing to do with the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision.”
The management of the hospital where the tragedy occurred has also issued a statement on the matter today.
We share the anguish of our Patient’s death with all those who have met the same fate. Especially with her family. Medics have long considered pregnancy, childbirth, and puerperium to be among the most difficult times in a woman’s life. The advancement of medicine has significantly reduced the risks in this area, but it has not eliminated them.
The only premise guiding the medical procedure was concern for the patient’s and the Fetus’s health and life. Doctors and midwives did their best for the patient and her Baby, fighting a difficult battle. The entire medical procedure is under investigation, and no verdicts can be rendered at this time. We sincerely hope that a credible and fair prosecution will enable us to determine the causes of death for the Patient and her Child.
Please take note of the capital letters in the words “child,” “baby” and “fetus.” Clearly, there was no “fight.” There was only waiting on the part of doctors, who are one of Poland’s most demoralized professional groups. In the Polish reality, the chances of them being punished are almost nil. For decades, corporate medical associations and the lobby groups of “professors” and “department heads” have effectively prevented the law from being applied to doctors. This is being exacerbated by a new legal and political environment. Law and Justice, Poland’s ruling party of Catholic fundamentalists since 2015, is waging a war against the country’s justice system. According to various estimates, nearly 6,000 judges and prosecutors have already been replaced across the country with new cadres favorable to right-wing extremism and the government.
Photo: A banner at the front of one of the numerous protests in Poland following the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision to outlaw abortions. It says, “F*** off!” (source: Facebook)
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