A 14-year-old girl was raped by her older friend and became pregnant. It took her and her mother two weeks to be granted the abortion that she was entitled to according to the law.
The issue was first reported by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, to which the young girl’s desperate mother turned for help. In Poland, a woman is entitled to an abortion when the intercourse was forced on her, or when the pregnancy may seriously affect her health, and then it can only be performed before the 12th week of pregnancy. Agata – the name that Gazeta used for the girl who wished to remain anonymous – went to a gynaecologist after the rape, who in turn informed her mother and the police. After discussing the problem, they agreed it would be best for the young girl?s future and health to terminate the pregnancy, and applied for and were granted permission for an abortion.
However, the girl was refused in two hospitals in her hometown of Lublin due to a conscience clause, which is the right of a doctor to refuse an abortion if it’s contradictory to his/her religious beliefs. Nevertheless if a doctor refuses to perform the abortion, he has to appoint another person or institution that would do it, as the right to abortion is constitutionally guaranteed. In one hospital, as the mother was talking to the senior registrar, a priest arrived and attempted to persuade the girl not to have the abortion. Since then Agata has had no peace ? activists from anti-abortion movements and priests followed her from Lublin to Warsaw, where she was to have the abortion, and there ? according to the hospital?s staff ? she was hounded by them.
According to Wanda Nowicka, the head of the Foundation for Women and Family Planning, an obvious violation of doctor-patient privilege had taken place, not to mention the girl’s right to privacy. Nowicka also said that Catholic associations were relentlessly trying to influence Agata, to the point where she couldn’t make a conscious decision about her pregnancy. Indeed, the girl had been wavering in her decision after talking to the priest, but finally she and her mother signed a statement affirming that they wanted the abortion.
However, the abortion didn?t take place. In the official version of events, the hospital received a court order to place Agata in an emergency shelter for children until a court could determine if Agata’s mother had forced her into getting the abortion (something the girl repeatedly denied). According to the police, a rumour of Agata’s pregnancy had circulated at her school, and one of Agata’s teachers reported that Agata wanted to have the baby after all, leading to an investigation into whether Agata had been forced into the decision to terminate the pregnancy. The court reacted instantly and decided that Agata should be placed in a shelter, allegedly to “be able to make a conscious decision.” Alone and scared, the girl told Gazeta Wyborcza, “I want to be a mother when I grow up, not now. Now all I want is my own mother.”
Unofficially, the doctors wouldn’t perform the abortion because the hospital was raided by pro-life activists and spammed by e-mails expressing both pleads and threats. To the staff’s horror it turned out that personal data of the girl had been leaked, including her mobile number, on which she received threats and pleads via SMS. When the girl left the hospital, she was followed by pro-life activists on the street and even at the police station where she and her mother sought refuge.
After coming back to Lublin, Agata dwelled for a few days is a shelter and was discharged as the court in Lublin overruled its decision after re-considering the case. During that time she was still sent text messages from activists, urging her not to have the abortion, while also receiving letters from supporters protesting against the violation of her civil rights. Finally, thanks to the Foundation for Women and Family Planning, the girl and her mother found a place where they could perform the abortion and it was carried out on the last day possible – at the very end of the 12th week of pregnancy.
In the meantime, the case of Agata stirred great emotions in Poland and even engaged major political forces. Internet forums bulged with comments from both Agata?s supporters and detractors and Gazeta Wyborcza‘s pages were full of discussions between pro-lifers and abortionists. Ewa Kopacz, the Minister of Health, ordered the Lublin hospital to appoint a hospital not bound by the conscience clause, as these institutions lingered on fulfilling their duty and appointing a place where the girl could have had the abortion. The left wing party?s chairman said his group would break the concordat with the Vatican when they got the majority in the Parliament, as priests wandering around and persuading girls against abortion were a contravention of all norms. The archbishop of Warsaw, Jozef Zycinski, issued a statement saying that the situation is an example of a drastic tension between the voice of conscience and law regulations that allow an unborn life to be ended. He thanked those who were defending ?the sanctity of the human right to live? and denied that accusations of fanaticism were justified as pro-life groups were using only dialogue and declarations of solidarity. According to the archbishop, it was the abortionists who were fanatic.
The case of Agata is still under investigation, as the prosecutor’s office determines whether the girl had been urged to abort against her will or if she had been denied what was her constitutional right. Also under investigation is how pro-life groups acquired information about Agata and if doctor-patient privilege hadn’t been violated.
For Wanda Nowicka, the unusual eagerness of the prosecution’s office in taking away a child from the mother and the fact that pro-life groups knew everything about Agata is not a coincidence.
“I suspect there must be some kind of secret police in hospitals that check if someone wants to have a constitutionally-allowed abortion and then do everything to prevent it,” she says. “If it wasn?t for the Foundation and for the media attention that arose recently, the case would have never ended as Agata wished. This incident showed clearly how restrictive our law is and how difficult it is to enforce it. Acting alone, Agata would never had the abortion performed legally,” she concluded.