WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The government of Poland, where a near-total ban on abortion is in place, faced accusations Monday of creating a “pregnancy registry” as the country expands the amount of digitally stored medical data about the patients.
Women’s rights advocates and opposition politicians fear women face unprecedented surveillance given the conservative views of a ruling party that has already tightened what was once one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. .
They fear that police and prosecutors could use the new data against women whose pregnancies end, including in cases of miscarriage, or that the state could track women if they ask for abortion pills or travel abroad for abortions.
“A pregnancy registry in a country with an almost total ban on abortion is terrifying,” said Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a left-wing lawmaker.
The matter drew attention Monday after Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an ordinance Friday expanding the amount of information to be kept in a central database about patients, including information about allergies, blood type and pregnancies.
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Health Ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz sought to allay concerns, saying only medical professionals will have access to the data and the changes are being made on the recommendation of the European Union.
The effort, he said, is aimed at improving medical treatment for patients, even if they seek treatment elsewhere in the 27-member EU. For pregnant women, she said this will help doctors know right away which women should not have X-rays or certain medications.
“No one is creating a pregnancy registry in Poland,” she told news station TVN24.
But Marta Lempart, leader of a women’s rights group, Women’s Strike, said she doesn’t trust the government to withhold information about women’s pregnancies from police and prosecutors. She told The Associated Press that police in Poland are already questioning women about how they end their pregnancies, tipped off by disgruntled couples.
“Being pregnant means that the police can come to you at any time and prosecutors can come to you with questions about your pregnancy,” Lempart said.
The new system means many Polish women will now avoid the state medical system during their pregnancies, with wealthier women seeking private treatment or traveling abroad, including for prenatal care. Meanwhile, the poorest women in Poland will face a higher risk of medical problems or even death if they avoid prenatal care, Lempart fears.
Lempart is also concerned that information obtained by the police could be shared with state media to damage people’s reputations.
She already knows how that can happen. In 2020, Lempart tested positive for COVID-19, with state television reporting the information even before she got the results from her.
Poland prohibits abortion in almost all cases, with exceptions only when the life or health of the woman is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
For years, abortion was allowed for fetuses with birth defects. That exception was overturned by the constitutional court in 2020.
In practice, Polish women seeking to terminate their pregnancies request abortion pills or travel to Germany, the Czech Republic and other countries where the procedure is permitted. While self-administration of abortion pills is legal, helping another person is not.
Activist Justyna Wydrzyńska faces up to three years in prison for helping a domestic violence victim access abortion pills. Amnesty International says it is the first such case in Europe.
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