The government of Poland, a country with a near-total ban on abortion, faced accusations Monday of creating a “pregnancy register” as it expands the amount of patients' medical data being saved digitally.
Rights advocates and opposition politicians fear that women face unprecedented surveillance given the conservative views of a ruling party that has tightened what was already one of Europe's most restrictive abortion laws. They fear the data could be used by police and prosecutors against women whose pregnancies end, even in cases of miscarriage, or that women could be tracked by the state if they order abortion pills or travel abroad for the procedure.
“A pregnancy registry in a country with an almost complete ban on abortion is terrifying,” said Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a left-wing lawmaker.
The matter gained attention after Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an ordinance Friday expanding the amount of patient information to be saved in a central database, including records on allergies, blood types and pregnancies.
The Health Ministry spokesman, Wojciech Andrusiewicz, sought to allay concerns, saying that only medical professionals will have access to the data and that the changes are being made at the recommendation of the European Union.
The effort, he said, is meant to improve medical treatment, including if patients seek treatment elsewhere in the 27-member EU. In the case of pregnancies, he said, this will help doctors immediately know who should avoid X-rays or certain medicines.
“Nobody is creating a pregnancy register in Poland,” he told the TVN24 news station.
But Marta Lempart, the leader of rights group Women's Strike, said she does not trust the government to keep information on pregnancies from the police and prosecutors. She told the Associated Press that police in Poland, tipped off by disgruntled partners, are already questioning women about how their pregnancies end.
“Being pregnant means that police can come to you any time, and prosecutors can come to you to ask you questions about your pregnancy,” Lempart said.
The new system means many Polish women will likely avoid the state medical system during pregnancy. Wealthy women may seek private treatment or travel abroad, even for prenatal care, while poor women could face an increased risk of medical problems or even death by avoiding prenatal care, Lempart fears.
Lempart also worries that information gained by police could be shared with state media to harm people's reputations. She already knows how that can happen: In 2020, she tested positive for COVID-19, and the information was reported by state television even before she got her results.
Poland — a predominantly Catholic country — bans abortion in almost all cases, with exceptions only when a woman’s life or health is endangered or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
For years, abortion was allowed in the case of fetuses with congenital defects. That exception was struck down by the constitutional court in 2020.
In practice, Polish women seeking to terminate pregnancies order abortion pills or travel to Germany, the Czech Republic and other countries where the procedure is allowed.
While self-administering abortion pills is legal, helping someone else is not. Activist Justyna Wydrzyńska is facing up to three years in prison for helping a victim of domestic violence access the pills. Amnesty International says it is the first such case in Europe.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.