Callers flood Polish abortion helpline after number sprayed during protests

Joanna Plucinska
·3-min read

By Joanna Plucinska

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish abortion rights support group said it had seen a sharp rise in calls to its helpline since activists started spraying its number on buildings, statues and signs during more than a week of mass protests.

Demonstrators were converging on Warsaw on Friday for their eighth straight day of rallies against a constitutional court ruling that amounted to a near-total ban on abortion.

"The number of our helpline has appeared on public television ... on sidewalks, walls, even on churches," Justyna Wydrzynska from the support group Abortions Without Borders told Reuters.

Some of the calls were from women seeking abortions who said they had been turned away by hospitals, even though the ruling is not yet enforceable, she said.

Others came from people calling to express support or just to check that the number worked, that they could use it when needed.

Before the protests, the group got around 400 calls a month, Wydrzynska said. In the days after the protest, it received almost 600 phone calls and more than 1 million zlotys ($258,100) in donations, she added.

Kinga Jelinska, an Amsterdam-based activist who runs an online service called Women help Women providing information on carrying out safe abortions, said she had seen an almost 40% increase in web traffic since the protests began.

It is "because of the protest and solidarity of people who say, no, we are going to support each other ... spreading and sharing the information including the hotline number and the website," Jelinska said.

LEGAL CONFUSION

The Court decision on Thursday last week restricted abortions due to foetal defects - ending the most common of the few legal grounds left for abortion in Poland and setting the country further apart from the European mainstream.

A post on the government legislation website says the ruling should be published and therefore effectively enforceable by Nov. 2.

Many of the callers were unsure whether the ruling had come into force or said they had already been turned away by hospitals, said Krystyna Kacpura, the director of Poland's Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa).

"A lot of hospitals are scared. They are worried the hospital will be held criminally responsible, that the ruling could be enforced the next day and that it will be binding as of midnight," she added.

Federa said some woman had been turned back by Warsaw's Bielanski Hospital. Hospital director Dorota Galczynska-Zych said staff continued to offer the procedure and would do until the publication - but she acknowledged there had been some confusion over how and when the ruling would be enforced.

"De facto, I'm not a lawyer, but the Constitutional Tribunal has created a new criminal category that could lead to three years of imprisonment," Galczynska-Zych said in a statement.

The city of Warsaw released a statement on Monday saying all of its hospitals that had offered abortions earlier would continue to do so until the ruling was published.

Catholic anti-abortion group Ordo Iuris called on doctors to treat the ruling as immediately enforceable.

"We have to fully protect the rights of these unborn children, already now," Karolina Pawlowska from the group said.

(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Kacper Pempel and Kuba Stezycki; Editing by Andrew Heavens)