There has been fierce demonstration in Polish cities for weeks because of the tightening of abortion legislation. A judgment of the Constitutional Court makes abortion virtually impossible. This restriction already leads to an increase in abortions among Polish women abroad, including in the Netherlands.
The Abortion Network Amsterdam (ANA) has seen a tripling of aid requests in recent weeks, the organization tells DeccEit. In 2020, 187 Polish women were helped, 45 of whom since the ruling on 22 October. The aid consists of arranging an abortion appointment in the Netherlands, its financing and possibly travel and stay.
The German organization Ciocia Basia also reports a tripling of requests for help.
Important evasive country
Immediately after the Court‘s ruling, the inbox of the organisation was full, says Mirjam van Heugten of ANA. “A lot of work came to us, while we all work as a volunteer.” This also takes a lot on the financial buffers: an abortion costs between 600 and 875 euros.
The Netherlands is an important evasive country for Polish women, because abortion opportunities here are wider than, for example, in neighbouring Germany. There, an abortion may be performed up to 12 weeks after conception. In the Netherlands, the legal limit is 24 weeks. There is no other country in the European Union that legislation is so broad.
In practice, by the way, the limit amounts to 22 weeks, because doctors can accurately determine the duration of pregnancy up to 2 weeks. After 24 weeks, it is allowed only in severe cases, for example, when the fetus is not viable. The United Kingdom also has progressive abortion legislation, but is less ideal because of the distance (and approaching Brexit).
The ruling was not directly transposed into a law, but nevertheless led to the immediate restriction of abortion access in Poland, noted Van Heugten of ANA. “Many doctors still refuse to participate in a legal abortion because they fear persecution at a later stage.” Existing appointments were suddenly canceled.
Because of conscientious objections, some doctors have refused abortions for a long time, but sometimes the process is also consciously trained, says Van Heugten. “It is sometimes claimed that a woman has been pregnant longer than she really is, so she is late for an abortion. Of course, you will only find out too late.” Another proven method is to postpone doctor’s statements so that time passes as well.
far, so-called abortion tourism does not seem to be heavily influenced by the Polish abortion restriction, says Van Heugten. Travel insurance is sufficient to have an abortion in the Netherlands. “What makes it complicated is the consent of a Polish doctor. This is necessary for us to bridge the mandatory five-day cooling-off period.”
The biggest obstacle for ANA remains the high cost. Although plans are being made by the Minister for Gender Equality to offer free abortions for Polish women in Sweden, in the Netherlands‘ Polish ‘abortions are paid entirely out of donations.
The number of ‘Dutch’ abortions is just a drop on the glowing record. Most abortions in Poland are being carried out illegally. Estimates vary widely: from several thousand to 200,000 a year. Polish NGOs play a key role in assisting women in taking abortion pills at home if they are less than 12 weeks pregnant.
The criminalisation of abortion can cause dangerous situations, says gynecologist and ANA volunteer Nienke van Teijlingen. “We sometimes see women who try pills after 12 weeks. There is a risk of bleeding, so that includes medical supervision.”
She also knows an example in which a woman in the illegal circuit would have had an abortion, but later turned out to be just pregnant. Money beating, she thinks.
This may occur more frequently in the future. “Abortions do not disappear when banned,” says Van Teijlingen referring to the statistics. The number of abortions in the Netherlands, with the widest abortion legislation in the EU, is among the lowest in the world.