WARSAW (ChurchMilitant.com) - After a baby in Poland born after two botched abortion attempts was allowed to die after screaming for an hour, a national debate has re-opened over whether abortion should be banned in the country.
Witnesses say an abortion performed March 7 at Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw resulted in the birth of a live 24-week baby, who was left to scream in agony for an hour until he died. Personnel did not help the child in any way.
After the baby survived the administration of abortifacients on Friday, the doctor induced birth on Sunday, leaving the unborn baby on the changing table crying alone. No anesthetics or other care was given to the baby.
Anna Wiejak, the Polish reporter who broke the story and who is a member of the SOS Foundation to Save Unborn Children, told ChurchMilitant.com, "The scream of this child was so traumatic for the personnel that they declared that they will never forget it."
One of the medical staff reported the incident to Fr. Ryszard Halwa, A Catholic priest and director of the SOS Foundation. According to Wiejak, the employee desires to remain anonymous because of fears he may lose his job "just like a former director of this hospital, professor Bogdan Chazan, who was fired over a year ago because he refused to abort a baby."
The SOS Foundation then informed the media and legal authorities about the incident, which has now exploded in international media.
The hospital insists it acted within the law. Spokeswoman Dorota Jaslowska-Niemyska said tests on the patient, who was near the end of her 23rd week of pregnancy, showed the unborn child had Down Syndrome. The spokeswoman claims the dignity of both mother and child were respected. She refused to comment further as to the details of the procedure.
In a statement issued shortly after the event broke in the media, the Polish Bishops Conference condemned the incident, affirming, "We believe that every person, especially one who is completely helpless and dependent on us, should be of particular concern. This is a concrete way of realizing the commandment to love one another."
And Abp. Henryk Hoser of Warsaw, through his metropolitan Kazimierz Nycz, is considering removing the name "Holy Family" from the hospital. "With great regret I received the information [about the baby]," said Nycz, "which significantly undermines the sense and the right to maintain such patronage" by the hospital.
Poland bans abortions except in the case of rape or where the mother's life or health is in danger. It also permits abortions in the case of fetal abnormalities only up till the point of fetal viability.
The SOS Foundation along with other pro-lifers in Poland are calling for criminal charges to be brought against the hospital for its failure to save the child's life. The Polish Doctors Code of Ethics states that an unborn child is a patient deserving of medical care, and the Polish Criminal Code deems a newborn a "child" with legal rights and protections.
The prosecutor's office has launched an investigation into the hospital to see if proper procedure was followed during and after the abortion. On Friday, the spokesman for the prosecutor's office, Michael Dziekański, said the investigation would examine whether there was a criminal violation of the law, which requires that medical care be given where "the fetus has become capable of living outside the pregnant woman's body." Such a crime would result in up to eight years' imprisonment for the offender.
Pro-lifers are also holding demonstrations outside the hospital calling for justice and for an end to abortion.
Catholics are hoping the recently installed conservative government will revisit the issue and ban all abortions. Since coming into power last October, the ruling Law and Justice Party has issued reforms more in line with traditional Catholic teaching. Its latest plans involve banning prescription-free morning-after pills as well as in vitro fertilization. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin commented that using morning after pills amounts to "express abortion."
In response to the outrage and after being approached by the SOS Foundation and the Polish Federation of Pro-life Movements, the Polish parliament has agreed to create a special committee to draft a pro-life bill.
According to Wiejak, "The main problem is that the prime minister, Beata Szydło, is going to defend the present law, which is called abortional compromise, but I believe that if we have a chance to speak with Mrs. Szydło, she will change her mind."
She continued, "Besides, this government really needs the support of the citizens, and over 70 percent of Polish society is pro-life. ... [M]ost polititians of the Law and Justice party are pro-life. ... [T]hat's why I think it shouldn't be a problem to gain the majority to pass the bill prohibiting abortion."
Abortion was first legalized in Poland in 1932, when it was permitted under limited circumstances. That law was expanded under later Communist rule to allow abortion on demand. After the fall of Communism, abortion was outlawed in 1993, with the three exceptions above remaining.
Poland remains a predominantly Catholic country, with approximately 90 percent of Poles describing themselves as Catholic.
"The impact of this case was unprecedented," Wiejak told ChurchMilitant.com. "There were even conversions."
She commented on the meaning of this case for the abortion agenda:
This case has shown something which was covered by silence — I mean the scream of a baby dying in pain because of abortion. Every abortion means pain for the child killed in the womb. ... Abortionists really do know what they are doing. They really do know, and they lie in saying that the unborn child is only a bunch of cells, that it doesn't feel anything. This scream of a baby that we heard in Poland exposed all these lies. People are angry — angry at the medical doctors, angry at the policians, angry at media because of pro-abortion propaganda, angry at the whole political system. They really do want change.
Editor's note: This article has been updated.