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Abortion helpline calls surge in Poland after court's near-total ban

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 December 2020 16:13 GMT

A woman wearing a rainbow-themed protective face mask attends a protest against the ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that imposes a near-total ban on abortion, in front of the Parliament in Warsaw, Poland October 27, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

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Abortion Without Borders hotline sees sharp increase in calls since controversial Oct. 22 ruling

By Sonia Elks

Dec 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Calls to a Polish abortion support hotline have increased more than five-fold since a court imposed a near-total ban on terminations in October, organisers of the service said on Thursday, as protests over the ruling continue.

Hundreds of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets since an Oct. 22 Constitutional Tribunal decision that sharply limited Poland's already restrictive abortion laws by banning terminations due to foetal defects.

In the six weeks since the ruling, the Abortion Without Borders hotline has received almost as many calls as it did during its first 10-and-a-half months in operation.

"People who decide to have abortions will seek out support and help, in spite of any view on abortion the government or courts might have," Poland's Abortion Dream Team group, one of the hotline's founders, said in a statement.

Even before the ruling, Poland had some of the most restrictive rules in Europe on abortion, with coronavirus adding extra barriers as women struggled to access overloaded health services or travel abroad to seek terminations.

The judgment ended one of the few legal grounds left for abortion in a staunchly Roman Catholic country with a deeply conservative government. It means abortion is only permitted in cases of incest, rape or when the mother's health is at risk.

The ruling has not been published by the government, meaning it is not yet enforceable.

Recent callers to the Abortion Without Borders hotline included pregnant women worried about accessing abortion if their foetus was unviable, said Justyna Wydrzynska from Women on the Net, another of the groups behind the hotline.

More than 2,500 calls were received in the six weeks after the ruling, compared with the roughly 2,700 contacts registered between December 2019 and Oct. 22 this year.

"People are afraid right now," Wydrzynska told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"But even if people will probably be afraid about looking for help and information and about abortion itself, they will still do it."

Related stories:

Polish abortion ban seen triggering wider retreat on women's rights

Polish court ruling amounts to almost total ban on abortion

Millions of women feared at risk of backstreet abortions during pandemic

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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