One woman dead, one woman blind, one woman forced to carry to term pregnancy she did not want. A raped underage girl detained to ensure the legal cut off passes. Not because there were no facilities to carry out the terminations, not because the law made such procedures illegal. Not in a low income country, but in the European Union. Women in Poland receive the double whammy of restricted access to sexual education and effective contraception combined with the social opprobrium with regards to pregnancy termination on any grounds, including medical or rape.
Health professionals can refuse to provide optimal medical care to their female patients citing their conscience, which allows them to watch a pregnant woman die from a treatable disease (Ulcerative Colitis). Health professionals can betray patient confidentiality on national media. Health professionals can bring in a priest, instead of following the protocols for cases of rape. Health professionals can allow a mother of two to go blind by refusing her a legal, medically justified abortion. In Poland, a pregnant woman ceases to be a patient. The perceived welfare of the foetus takes unquestionable precedence and leads to substandard treatment for the mother. As the result sometimes both the mother and the foetus perish (as in the untreated Ulcerative Colitis case).
I have just listened to a presentation at the GLOW 2013 conference citing a father from a low income African country ‘I would rather argue with a policeman, not a doctor. Everyone is frightened of the doctors. If you say anything to them they say ‘Have you ever seen a doctor in court?’’ Sounds familiar? Poland frequently features in cases brought to the European Courts for non-enforcement of the legal framework in relation to provision of abortion, but what happens to the scores of the health professionals on the ground who fail to follow the basic tenets of their profession (e.g. working within the legal rules and protocols, maintaining patient confidentiality)?
For every publicized case of a woman denied proper standard of healthcare in 21st Century Europe, there are scores of others that do not hit the headlines and suffer the consequences of the non-provision of services they are entitled to. The Polish girl-child is well educated and can look forward to life of civic freedoms and good opportunities, but even though clean facilities are available, the health professionals are trained, and the per capita income is good, she will not be provided with optimal medical care when the need arises. Not if she happens to be pregnant.
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