Reason #492745 why abortion must be legal and accessible

polish
Alicja Tysiac

And why a health exception is not enough.

A woman whose vision became severely impaired after she was denied an abortion in staunchly Catholic Poland hailed a ruling in her favour by the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday.

“I am happy with this decision. It’s a shame that I was unable to obtain justice in Poland. I am pleased it’s all over,” Alicja Tysiac, 36, told reporters.

“Every woman has the right to decide whether or not she wants a child, and the government should stay out of it,” she added.

The European court condemned Poland on Tuesday for breaching Tysiac’s human rights, in a case which put the country’s anti-abortion stance in the spotlight.

Tysiac became pregnant with her third child in 2000. She was told by three different eye specialists that she would go blind or have her vision severely impaired if she carried to term — and still, none of them would grant her a medical certificate to get an abortion on health-related grounds. A fourth doctor finally gave her one — and then the hospital in Warsaw refused to perform the procedure after the head of obstetrics there declared that there was no reason for a therapeutic abortion.

After she gave birth, her vision deteriorated from a retinal hemorrhage. She can’t see more than a meter and a half in front of her, and lives off of $193 a month in disability pension.

I’m glad she’s seeing some justice. I’m sorry that she had to go through this ordeal in order to further demonstrate that banning abortion — even with health exceptions — makes women less safe in our own bodies, and is an affront to human rights.

In the meantime, American politicians lobby to make abortion a felony offense.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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17 Responses to Reason #492745 why abortion must be legal and accessible

  1. Kyra says:

    Holy shit that’s horrifying. Another reason I think I’m never going to be pregnant, that it could make me blind and there’s people in this world who would inflict that on me without a second thought. I can’t imagine going through that, after being told it would happen; I’d’ve thrown myself down every staircase in Warsaw first.

    I wonder if she can sue those three doctors and the hospital? Honestly, if they’d inflicted that on her any other way, or done it as punishment for having an illegal abortion, it would be thoroughly illegal. This is criminal negligence by all of them.

  2. Wahaj D Ahmad MD says:

    It is disgusting that the physicians pronounced the clear complication of pregnancy and yet she was allowed to loose her eyesight. I personally do not think this is a woman’s rights problem but it is unforgiveable physicains fault that should be addressed here.

  3. Mnemosyne says:

    This is reminding me of the woman in Louisiana a few years ago who had a serious heart condition — she’d had a pacemaker installed at the age of 30. She got accidentally pregnant but the hospital where she would need to get the abortion refused to sign off on it because there was “only” a 50% chance she would die outright from the pregnancy.

    I am so not shitting you. A 50% chance of survival when she already had 2 kids to support was considered good enough odds to deny her surgery that would definitely preserve her life.

  4. justicewalks says:

    They truly do hate us. When many men refuse even their time to their children, women are expected to make an uncompensated sacrifice of themselves in the name of each and every faceless fetus.

  5. Tricia(freya) says:

    Wahaj D Ahmad MD: Of course it’s not a women’s rights problem, I’m sure those incompetent assholes would have denied her an appendectomy, too.

    /snark

  6. Una says:

    Ugh. Not surprising, but upsetting noneheless.

    Well, good for the ECtHR at any rate.

  7. Misinformed Youth says:

    “There were people in Nazi Germany that thought killing Jews was all right,” she said. “Then one day they stopped and said, ‘No, we aren’t going to do this anymore.’”

    -This quote is from the aforementioned article at the end of the post, and yes, the person quoted above is comparing abortion with the genocide of Jewish people at the hands of a madman.

    If anything makes you want to slam your head against the keyboard, it would be this.

  8. Mandolin says:

    “I personally do not think this is a woman’s rights problem but it is unforgiveable physicains fault that should be addressed here.”

    WTF is it, then?

  9. Dianne says:

    mnemosyne: If we’re thinking about the same case, the woman in question was also on a medication that is strongly contraindicated in pregnancy because of very high risk of severe to fatal birth defects. So she was being asked to live with a 50% chance of dying for the sake of a fetus that was probably going to die anyway.

  10. Mnemosyne says:

    mnemosyne: If we’re thinking about the same case, the woman in question was also on a medication that is strongly contraindicated in pregnancy because of very high risk of severe to fatal birth defects. So she was being asked to live with a 50% chance of dying for the sake of a fetus that was probably going to die anyway.

    It was the case of Michelle Lee that I was thinking of. I don’t recall seeing any reference to medication that she was taking so, sadly, I think you may be thinking of yet another woman who was denied an abortion despite her medical condition.

    Lee was on a heart transplant list when she got pregnant, but even that wasn’t enough to signal to the doctors in Louisiana that pregnancy was a life-threatening condition for her.

  11. ginmar says:

    The thing that jumps out at me, too, is that even though I know the exchange rate is different, she’s supporting three kids on $193.00 a month? Every single one of those doctors and the guy who got her pregnant should be forking over money every month.

  12. Chicklet says:

    Policies like this are designed to kiss papal ass. It’s why I lost respect for Lech Walesa. He seemed bent on delivering Poland from Communism straight into theocracy.

  13. Dianne says:

    mnem: I’m not sure. The drug in question is coumadin, which a woman with heart failure might well be on, but there could easily be more than one case. Well, almost certainly there has been more than one case, but more than one case may have gotten to the media’s attention. While googling Lee trying to sort the question out I found this article in the NEJM. It describes, among other things, the harassment one doctor who performs abortions has gone through. Someone burned his house and stables. The fire started in 7 different places simulaneously but it was not ruled to be arson. He lives with daily threats and his clinic has been shot at. Don’t let the rhetoric fool you: “pro-lifers” are killers.

  14. DAS says:

    She got accidentally pregnant but the hospital where she would need to get the abortion refused to sign off on it because there was “only” a 50% chance she would die outright from the pregnancy. – Mnemosyne

    And I bet some of the same people responsible for this decision then go around and make statements like “if women really were getting abortions for health reasons, why are they going to abortion clinics and not regular hospitals?”

    *

    OTOH, I’m a little confused by how this is why “a health exception is not enough”. Wouldn’t loosing your site be a health complication? Still, I agree with Tricia(freya)’s snark: they wouldn’t be making this kind of deal for any other surgery.

    Anyway, I’m enough of an “Old Testament” sort that I believe that those responsible for this person not being able to have an abortion should have their eyes taken out. These people claim abortion is morally wrong and against God’s law? Well, it says right there in the Bible “an eye for an eye”. No mincing words. No issues of translation or interpretation: they blinded her, so they have to be blinded. That‘s God’s law.

    Oh yeah. I bet these people claim to be Christians and hence don’t believe in an eye for an eye. Well, there’s still “do unto others” which is pretty much the same thing, nu? They did unto her, so they ought to be willing to have done unto them, nu?

    I suspect the anti-abortion movement would be a lot smaller if every anti-abortion person had to personally experience the risks they are asking others to take. I still have my proposal: if you are opposed to abortion, you should pair up with a pregnant woman and have to go through what she goes through. Give up the booze, put on a weight pack, etc. And if she goes blind — you get your eyes taken out. If she dies, you get killed. Any anti-choice person not willing to make this sort of deal is the moral equivalent of a chickenhawk. And I say unto them what Dick Cheney said unto Patrick Leahy.

  15. Jill says:

    OTOH, I’m a little confused by how this is why “a health exception is not enough”. Wouldn’t loosing your site be a health complication?

    Well, yeah. Poland has a health exception for abortion. This woman was still not allowed to terminate her pregnancy, and went almost blind because of it. The exception didn’t work.

  16. Ampersand says:

    I blogged about this case a couple of years ago. As I said back then, abortion bans in practice can sometimes “overreach.” A ban on partial-birth abortions, with a few exceptions, can in practice turn into no PBAs available under any circumstances, because the law has a profound chilling effect on all doctors who might otherwise perform the procedure. This effect has led, for instance, to a woman walking around with a dead fetus inside her for a week because she couldn’t find a doctor willing to perform the (perfectly legal) procedure needed to remove the fetus.

    …and then the hospital in Warsaw refused to perform the procedure after the head of obstetrics there declared that there was no reason for a therapeutic abortion.

    He also tried to keep the letter, so that she couldn’t bring it to any other doctors. >[

  17. Sandi says:

    Update:

    It seems she won the case and will be awarded damages:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6470403.stm

    It’s not going to get abortion legalized in Poland, but at least she won’t be struggling to feed three kids on her disability insurance.

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