A Polish woman who suffered severe health consequences after being denied an abortion is taking her case before the European Court of Human Rights. Alicja Tysiac sought an abortion after three ophthalmologists predicted that carrying her child to term would likely further damage her failing eyesight. But the same three specialists, as well as a gynecologist, refused to authorize an abortion. When she gave birth, Tysiac’s eye condition worsened dramatically as a result of retinal hemorrhage. Tysiac, a single mother to her three children, can now see no more than 12 feet in front of her.
Under the Catholic Church-sponsored Anti-Abortion Act of 1993, abortion in Poland is restricted to circumstances of rape or incest, severe birth defects evident in the fetus, or threat to the mother’s life. However, the lack of specific medical criteria for making these determinations causes doctors to be reluctant to grant abortion certificates, according to the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning. The Federation estimates that only 150-200 abortions are performed legally each year, compared to 180,000 annually before 1993.
Many doctors surveyed by the Federation refuse to perform an abortion even with certification that the woman was raped. Because of these obstacles, some women who qualify for a legal abortion in Poland often choose to have the procedure done illegally at a private clinic or leave the country to find abortion services.