Death of Polish Woman Should Be a Wake-Up Call to American Pro-Lifers

The recent death of a Polish woman denied an abortion has reinvigorated the debate on women’s rights and highlights the risks associated with banning abortion. The victim, identified only as Izabela, died of sceptic shock after doctors refused to abort her fetus at 22 weeks even though the fetus was not viable. Her death sparked protests throughout the Eastern European nation and is being shared widely on social media as proof of how dangerous abortion restrictions are for vulnerable women. The case particularly resonated with American feminists who worry that Texas’s new abortion law, one of the strictest in the nation and which allows citizens sue anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion, could lead to similar outcomes in the US.

Poland’s law is informed by the teachings of the Catholic Church just as the Texas law is informed by Evangelical Christianity. Religious believers, who generally make up the bulk of those opposed to abortion, often claim that banning abortion in the case of danger to a woman’s life is a misguided misunderstanding of the Church’s teachings on the matter. But that argument misses a fundamental point: if abortion is criminalized, doctors will be reluctant to terminate a pregnancy even if the woman’s life is at risk because they may fear going to jail. It also would permit doctors to refuse life-saving abortions even to save a woman’s life on the basis of their own religious conviction. In Ireland, a woman by the name of Savita Halappanavar died under precisely these circumstances when medical providers refused to terminate her pregnancy, even though Irish law would’ve permitted them to do so to save her life. And in El Salvador, which has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world, a woman named Sara Rogel was sentenced to decades in prison after suffering a miscarriage. How does a woman prove that her miscarriage was really a miscarriage, and not an at-home abortion? When abortion becomes a crime, then vulnerable, poor, and disenfranchised women become criminals. It happened in Ireland, El Salvador, and Poland, and if Roe v. Wade is not protected, it could happen here, too.

The cases of Izabela, Savita, Sara, and countless others like them emphasize what both feminists and conservatives have known for a long time: when individuals are deputized with the power of the state to make decisions in the lives of others, they will choose wrong. People will choose to deny important rights to their fellow countrymen (or women) if they are permitted to do so — particularly if their own liberty is at stake, in the case of a doctor who fears imprisonment for performing an abortion procedure. To prevent further tragedies like those of these three women, we must grant women — and everyone — maximum personal liberty and bodily autonomy. This is the only way to prevent ill-intentioned individuals from exerting government power to deny women their rights. This concept, the importance of liberty and the dangers of the government taking people’s freedoms away, forms the very foundation of the conservative worldview; yet when it comes to abortion, they seem to forget their own principles.

The Texas law is particularly hypocritical. The GOP prides itself on protecting American liberties from governmental tyranny, but now Texas Republicans want to explicitly endow private citizens with the power of the government to use against other private citizens. There is nothing “small government” about this law, and it should be repealed immediately, for the sake of American women’s constitutional rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Denying women personal liberty is not conservative, and it certainly isn’t pro-life. It is pro-medical malpractice and pro-government tyranny.

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