compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 26 May 2008
After the fall of communism Poland outlawed abortion in nearly all circumstances. As a result, annual reported abortions have fallen from about 130,000 per year in the mid 1980s to about 160 per year in 1999-2004. Poland is widely criticized by abortion proponents for its current policy. Some have also claimed that the Polish abortion law has not really impacted abortion rates. Here I argue that abortions by Polish women have significantly decreased since passage of the anti-abortion legislation.
In addition, the Czech Republic reportedly prohibits providing abortions to foreigners; there was a 1996 case involving a Czech doctor providing abortions to Polish women. There are restrictions in several other neighboring countries regarding provision of abortions to foreigners.
(If the Polish abortion law were routinely circumventable, there wouldn't be so much hostility towards it, I would think.)
Few European countries (and few of those near Poland) provide statistics on abortions by foreigners; what figures there are tend to refute claims of large numbers of abortions by Polish women. The United Kingdom reports an average of 16 Polish women per year obtaining abortions in England and Wales (1994-2005). Germany reports an average of only 471 abortions per year for foreign women from 1999 to 2005. Sweden reports an average of only 408 abortions per year (1997-2006) of unspecified residence. The Netherlands has long provided abortions to large numbers of women from other West European countries, but available data does not indicate large numbers of Polish abortions since 1989 (one source suggests a couple hundred per year).
Available data on abortions by region in Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Russia do not show high numbers of abortions close to the Polish border. In Slovakia, the lowest regional abortion rates are along the Polish border. In the Czech Republic, changes in abortion numbers are very uniform across regions from 1992 to 2003. There are no obvious regional trends in Lithuania. Kalingrad has a slightly higher abortion percentage than the Russian average, but the abortion numbers are not sufficiently higher to represent a significant influx of foreigners. (I should warn, however, that figures from these countries may not include abortions for non-citizens).
Several neighboring countries show temporary increases in reported abortions in the late 1980s-early 1990s. In the cases of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, these increases occurred in 1987 and thus apparently not generally attributable to the Polish law. Figures for Lithuanian reported abortions rose from 27,500 in 1990 to 48,400 in 1992, then dropped to 22,700 by 1997. This change, however, may represent a methodology change (graphs of abortions from the Lithuanian health statistics agency show the increase occurring in 1988). Note that the relevant transitions in Polish abortion law occurred in 1990, 1992, and 1993.
One source (http://www.federa.org.pl/english/report96/rap96_1.htm) claims that most Polish women obtaining abortions abroad go to the Ukraine, Lithuania, Kaliningrad, Belarus, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. This source claims 15 Polish women per week obtaining abortions in one Berlin clinic (which would be 780 per year), and claims one agency facilitated 1200 abortions for Polish women in 1993-1994 in a southern neighbor, presumably either the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
This source (http://www.federa.org.pl/english/report96/rap96_2.htm) extrapolates these figures to 16,000 per year in 1995 obtained abroad and suggests twice that number illegally performed in Poland, for a total of 40,000-50,000. No basis is given for the figure on illegal abortions. Similarly, some organizations lobbying against the Polish anti-abortion law claim that numbers of annual abortions in Poland now are higher than the reported legal abortions in the late 1980s, again without giving a basis for such figures. Such claims are clearly unsupportable; even an article in Studies in Family Planning (David and Titkow, 1994, 25:239-242) acknowledged "the evidence is persuasive that fewer Polish women are becoming pregnant."
We cannot document what we cannot observe. I would, however, argue that the annual numbers of abortions by Polish women are significantly lower as a result of the anti-abortion laws. This is based on the following:
Certainly the numbers of abortions by Polish women are significantly larger than the number legally performed in Poland (average 635 per year, 1993-2004). Figures of 5,000-15,000 per year obtained abroad are credible. I could believe a figure of 10,000 per year for illegal abortions in Poland, but I doubt that the totals are anywhere near the figures of 100,000+ reported abortions per year as in the late 1980s.
© 2008 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 26 May 2008.
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