A MENTALLY disabled 14-year-old girl who was raped by her own uncle has been refused an abortion in her native Poland, sparking outrage.
The teenager was turned away from two different hospitals in Poland, where doctors are legally allowed to refuse to perform an abortion on ethical grounds.
Polish lawmakers in the deeply Catholic country in 2020 signed into law some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.
Termination of pregnancy is only legal in the country when the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act such as rape or incest, or where going ahead with the pregnancy puts the health of the woman at risk.
But even though the underage girl was clearly the victim of sexual abuse, she was refused treatment at two different hospitals in her home region of Podlasie in the northeast of the country.
Staff refused to even tell her where she could receive a legal abortion, which violates Poland's laws.
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While doctors in Poland are allowed to refuse to perform an abortion under a so-called "conscience clause", hospitals are required to inform patients where they can obtain a legal termination.
The girl, who did not understand that she was pregnant, was treated "brutally and inhumanely" by doctors, according to her aunt who brought her to hospital.
A prosecutor had even provided documents saying an alleged rape had taken place and an abortion would be legal, but the pair were still turned away by doctors.
Hospital staff reportedly told them: "Not here, go away. We don't know where. It's none of our concern."
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The aunt then approached reproductive organisation Federa who helped to take the young girl to the Polish capital Warsaw, where a safe and successful abortion was performed.
But even in devoutly-Catholic Poland, the initial refusal of doctors to treat a mentally-disabled underage girl has sparked disgust.
In a statement, Federa said: "Warsaw doctors couldn't understand the conduct of the doctors from Podlasie. No empathy is an understatement.
"We have no words of indignation at such treatment."
Health ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz confirmed that local hospitals failed to comply with the law and said a probe has been launched.
He told TVN: "Such an abortion should either be carried out or they should indicate a place where such an abortion can be carried out, so the hospital acted against the statuary provisions."
We have no words of indignation at such treatment
Gynaecologist and member of Poland's Supreme Medical Chamber Dr Artur Plachta told the publication Fakty: "I am ashamed of them because they did not help the child.
"This child suffered two dramas, she was raped by someone, even the closest person, and now she received a third 'gift' from her medical colleagues, she was not helped."
Since 2015, Poland has been ruled by the right-wing nationalistic Law and Justice party, which swept to power on a promise to defend what it sees as the country's Catholic traditions.
More than 90 per cent of Polish people are Catholic, but the strengthening of abortion laws in 2020 triggered mass protests.
Some 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets, following new rules which even banned abortions for malformed foetuses.
A result of the strengthening of the law has been that doctors are now often reluctant to perform abortions even if they want to, due to fear of legal consequences.
Donald Tusk, former President of the European Parliament and now leader of Poland's largest opposition party called the case another example of the environment created by the new law.
He said that it often leaves women's pregnancies to be "led by prosecutors or ruling party politicians".
Tusk pointed to an infamous case from 2021 in which a pregnant woman died from septic shock.
Doctors refused to perform an abortion and instead waited for her foetus, which had been diagnosed with severe birth defects, to die first.
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Opposition politicians have called for changes to the abortion law, and removing the "conscience clause".
Left-wing MP Katarzyna Kotula from the opposition Lewica party said in a statement: "The conscience clause is a barbaric and inhumane law repeatedly exploited by doctors. It should be abolished."
How you can get help
Women’s Aid has this advice for victims and their families:
- Always keep your phone nearby.
- Get in touch with charities for help, including the Women’s Aid live chat helpline and services such as SupportLine.
- If you are in danger, call 999.
- Familiarise yourself with the Silent Solution, reporting abuse without speaking down the phone, instead dialing “55”.
- Always keep some money on you, including change for a pay phone or bus fare.
- If you suspect your partner is about to attack you, try to go to a lower-risk area of the house – for example, where there is a way out and access to a telephone.
- Avoid the kitchen and garage, where there are likely to be knives or other weapons. Avoid rooms where you might become trapped, such as the bathroom, or where you might be shut into a cupboard or other small space.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, SupportLine is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 8pm on 01708 765200. The charity’s email support service is open weekdays and weekends during the crisis – [email protected]
Women’s Aid provides a live chat service – available weekdays from 8am-6pm and weekends 10am-6pm.
You can also call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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