Abortion rights supporters have marched through several cities in Poland after the death of a pregnant woman whose family believe she could have survived if she had been offered a termination.
- Poland's anti-abortion laws are among the strictest in Europe
- A protester says there were demonstrations across about 80 cities
- The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party says there is no issue with Poland's abortion laws
Protesters on Wednesday (local time) chanted "stop killing us" as they marched through the capital Warsaw towards the health ministry headquarters, some carrying placards that said "We want doctors, not missionaries" and "Hell for women," a common slogan used to convey how the measure affects those who are carrying an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy.
Poland's anti-abortion laws, among the strictest in Europe, have provoked mass protests in recent years and the death of the 33-year-old named as Dorota in May has stoked anti-government sentiment among many liberal Poles ahead of elections due in October or November.
In 2021, the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki put into effect a constitutional court decision banning terminations of pregnancies with fetal defects, as conservative policies increasingly take root in one of Europe's most devout Catholic countries.
Abortion rights activists have said that there were at least five cases of pregnant women dying whose families came out to the media, blaming the restrictions on abortion for their deaths.
Pregnant woman died in hospital
Last month, Dorota Lalik died of septic shock in a hospital.
Ms Lalik arrived there after her waters broke in the 20th week of pregnancy and was told to lie with her legs up, as the medics hoped her fluids would be reconstituted.
She developed sepsis and died three days later.
Her husband said nobody informed them of the option to induce a miscarriage, even though the child had very low chances of survival.
She died in the John Paul II hospital in Nowy Targ in southern Poland.
It is in a deeply conservative region of the mostly Catholic nation.
The hospital contains relics of the late Polish pope and Polish media have reported that it never performs abortions on principle.
A protest was also held in Nowy Targ, where the hospital issued a statement expressing the staff's condolences to the woman and insisting they did their best to help her.
"She was also informed about her and her child's health. She understood the situation," the hospital said.
In 2021, a 30-year-old woman in the 22nd week of pregnancy, named Izabela, also died of septic shock after doctors waited for her unborn baby's heart to stop beating.
"We've had enough … we protested when we found out about the death of Izabela almost two years ago and at the time we shouted 'not one more'," Agnieszka Czerederecka, a founder of the Women's Strike movement in Warsaw, told Reuters.
She added that there were protests in around 80 cities.
Leading politician says no issue with abortion laws
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader said that by law women could have abortions if there was any threat to their life or health.
"There is no such issue. It's been made up," he said, accusing critics of the policy of "propaganda" and creating an "imaginary reality".
However, critics said that since the Constitutional Tribunal ruling, doctors have been more reluctant to perform terminations even in such cases.
A poll by IBRiS for private Radio Zet showed this week over 70 per cent of Poles believe the strict abortion rules constitute a potential threat to women's life and health.
"I hope the law will change and I will not be afraid to get pregnant in Poland," said Joanna Jędrasiak, 36, an economist.
"I would like to have children very much, and to experience pregnancy, give birth to a healthy child, without the kind of problems that a few women have had and whom we commemorate here today."