Death of woman triggers new protests against Poland’s abortion law


Central Europe


Photo AFP, Wojtek Radwanski

After Polish doctors refused an abortion in May, a woman died. As Poles take to the streets, the beleaguered government responds.

Dorata Lalik’s agony lasted for three days. However, when doctors finally proceeded with an abortion, it was too late. The 33-year-old woman died at the end of May after suffering blood poisoning. According to several media reports, doctors did initially not dare to perform an abortion, despite Lalik’s life-threatening condition, for fear of being prosecuted.

Instead, doctors of the Pope John Paul II hospital in the southern Polish town of Nowy Targ told Lalik that her pregnancy could be saved and that her health was not in danger. This reports the Polish news website Gazeta.pl. A relative said the medical staff told Lalik to “lie with her legs up so that the waters might come back.”

This did not help. Lalik’s health began deteriorating rapidly after three days. Not long after her baby was aborted, the 33-year-old died from septic shock and multiple organ failure.


Ms Lalik’s death led to nationwide outrage. On Wednesday, protests by women took place in almost two dozen Polish cities. According to the organisers, the protest marches were directed against the compulsion to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and against the abortion ban. The ruling conservative-populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) was portrayed as “criminal”.

A demonstrator holds up an image showing late woman Dorota Lalik. Photo AFP, Wojtek Radwanski

A Constitutional ruling in the autumn of 2020 tightened the already strict abortion laws in the Catholic country. Since then, malformations of the foetus are no longer considered a reason for a legal abortion. Such is only allowed after rape or incest – and if the life or health of the woman is in danger.

But doctors do not always dare to execute an abortion, fearing legal consequencs. At least three Polish women have died since 2021 because doctors did not perform an abortion, writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.


In reaction to Ms Lalik’s death, the Polish government has announced the creation of a special team to help ensure that pregnant women receive appropriate medical care including abortions if their health is endangered. According to Adam Niedzielski, Poland’s Minister of Health, every woman whose life or health is threatened at any moment of her pregnancy has the right to terminate it. This new team should study how future mistakes could be avoided.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected a complaint by eight Polish women who claimed to be victims of the restrictive abortion legislation. According to to the ECHR, the “applicants had failed to provide any convincing medical evidence proving that they had been at real risk of being directly affected by the abortion law.”



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