Unprotected and Assaulted: 14 Year Old Raped and Denied Abortion

Amie Newman

A 14 year old girl in Poland checked into a hospital to terminate her pregnancy but instead was continually harassed and assaulted by anti-choice protesters (led by a priest!) and she's still pregnant.

From the Gazeta, a Polish publication, an article from June 6, 2008 which deserves our attention:

A 14 year old girl in Poland ("Agata") who had been raped was admitted to a hospital in Warsaw to have an abortion (abortion is legal under Polish law when a pregnancy results from rape), only to be essentially assaulted and violated again by anti-choice activists. As of today, the procedure still has not taken place.

According to the article, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning has been following the story and knows that "the girl, at
first, wanted to have the abortion in Lublin, where she resides.
However, two hospitals refused to perform the procedure. A priest
suddenly appeared in one of them during a conversation between the
girl’s mother and the hospital director. The priest began trying to
convince the 14-year-old that she should give birth."

Apparently, the priest along with a variety of anti-choice protesters and activists showed up at the hospital making a ruckus and trying desperately to force the young girl to carry the pregnancy to term. As a result, Agata’s mother turned to the Federation for help in locating another hospital this past week, which they did. The girl was transferred to this alternative hospital and scheduled the termination.

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Shockingly, the priest and his fanatical protesters showed up at this second location in Warsaw only to begin their harassment of this poor girl once again. An account of what occurred from the author of the article follows:

"I don’t know how the priest found out about a private procedure taking
place in Warsaw – Wanda Nowica, president of the Federation, wonders.-
Obviously, confidentiality of medical records and the patient’s right
to privacy have been violated.
According to reports provided by hospital employees, all hell broke
loose when abortion opponents appeared at the hospital. – It was a
horror – an employee says. They attacked her. In addition to the
priest, there were journalists from Radio Maryja or Trwam Television.
And the women from the anti-abortion organizations occupied the office.
If we went on with the procedure, the “mohair berets” [translator’s
note: conservative and older female supporters of Radio Maryja] would
have devouored us"

Agata was then released from this second hospital again without the procedure having been performed and anti-choice zealots have not given up:

Agata was discharged from hospital on Thursday. When she exited the
hospital with her mother, women from pro-life organizations followed
her – activists from the Federation say. The mother flagged a police
patrol car. The police took them to a police station in the Srodmiescie
District of Warsaw. But the pro-life activists made it there as well. Meanwhile, notification of a crime having been committed, the coercing
of a minor to undergo an abortion, was submitted at a police station in
the district of Mokotów in Warsaw. It was submitted by a representative
of the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements. The same organization is trying to amend the current law on family
planning and cross out the stipulation which allows the termination of
pregnancy when it results from rape or when there is a high
probability of fetal deformity or of an incurable disease. Terminating
the pregnancy would then be allowed only in order to save the mother’s
life. Pro-life activists did not leave Agata and her mother alone even at the police station.

According to a representative at the Federation, while anti-choice harassment is common, she has never seen this level of "persecution" before.

We’ll keep you posted but if you want to act – check out some of their campaigns that may help future "Agatas."

Commentary Abortion

Trent Franks, Abortion Bans, and the Fetal Pain Lie

Jodi Jacobson

Trent Franks' federal 20-week abortion ban is a dangerous piece of legislation, based on false and completely disproven assertions about "evidence" of fetal pain. Yet many media outlets are assisting in perpetuating these lies.

See all our coverage of HR 1797 here.

Wednesday, an all-male panel of House Judiciary Committee members, led by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), passed a 20-week abortion ban. The bill, HR 1797, passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 20 to 12. The vote count fell along party lines, with the exception of Congressman Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), the only Democrat who voted in favor.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has promised a floor vote on the bill next week.

This is a dangerous piece of legislation. It is based on false and completely disproven assertions about “evidence” of fetal pain; it makes legislators, rather than doctors, the arbiters of gestational age; and it would result in the trial and imprisonment of medical professionals who provide safe abortion care. Yet in what can only be called an irresponsible quest for what they call “balance,” many media outlets are assisting in the perpetuation of lies about a critical aspect of reproductive health care in support of policies that will deeply harm women and criminalize providers.

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As currently written, Franks’ bill would create an absolute ban on abortions in the United States after 20 weeks post-fertilization, for any reason, under any circumstance, except the imminent risk of death of the pregnant person, which as the cases of Beatriz and Savita Halappanavar have shown is not exactly reassuring. Contrary to misreporting by the Washington Post and the Associated Press, it is not a “reaction” to the trial of Kermit Gosnell, but simply the newest iteration of a bill Franks has been pushing for years—and he is using the Gosnell case as an excuse to expand the bill from a focus “only” on the District of Columbia to a nationwide ban.

It is no secret that the GOP is out to ban all abortions in the United States, no matter the costs to women’s lives and health, nor the costs to families and society writ large. When they are not acting to ban abortions outright, legislatures controlled by the GOP and Tea Party are passing unnecessary and costly regulations intended to close clinics run by legitimate providers of safe abortion care, and creating hoops through which patients must jump to get safe abortion care intended to raise the costs of early abortion and to humiliate and shame women, plain and simple.

The GOP and anti-choice movement’s claims about “caring for women” are belied by the fact that passage of a bill that would create blanket restrictions on safe abortion care, would remove health-care decisions from the hands of doctors and the women who are their patients—and would guarantee that criminal actors such as Kermit Gosnell get plenty of business.

The ostensible premise of HR 1797—and others like it at the state level—is that a fetus at or past 20 weeks post-fertilization “feels pain.” This is an assertion that has been rejected by every relevant major medical body in the United States and abroad.

In the findings section of the bill, for example, the text asserts the following (condensed here):

After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling. … In the unborn child, application of such painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress response. … Subjection to such painful stimuli is associated with long-term harmful neurodevelopmental effects, such as altered pain sensitivity and, possibly, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities later in life.

It further states (emphasis added):

The position, asserted by some medical experts, that the unborn child is incapable of experiencing pain until a point later in pregnancy than 20 weeks after fertilization predominately rests on the assumption that the ability to experience pain depends on the cerebral cortex and requires nerve connections between the thalamus and the cortex. However, recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.

The intention here is clearly to deceive.

The reference to “recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007,” appears to refer to one commentary paper written by Anita Gupta and James Giordano, which, in supporting the contention of fetal pain, cites “seven studies” of various kinds, all of which were studies of rats, and the majority of which were studies of rats that had long since been born in any case. None of these were conducted for the explicit purposes implied by the paper. Needless to say, the relevance of these studies to human fetuses prior to the third trimester are questionable at best.

At the time of the publication, Gupta was listed as D.O., or doctor of osteopathic medicine. On her current “about” page on the Drexel University website, Gupta prominently associates herself with the university, but at the very bottom includes this note (emphasis in original): “This doctor is a non-compensated member of the teaching faculty of Drexel University College of Medicine; the associated clinical practice is independent of Drexel University College of Medicine.

Giordano is listed on the paper as a bioethicist on the faculty of Georgetown University; he is not a medical doctor.

The anti-choice movement also often cites as “research” claims from a website called “Doctors on Fetal Pain,” which states that there is a “wealth of anatomical, behavioral and physiological evidence” on fetal pain 20 weeks post-fertilization. The only problem is that this “wealth” of research does not seem to exist; on one page, every single one of the links to outside research is dead (and cannot be found elsewhere), and on another page on the site, references cited are not live-linked to any source, and many of these sources do not turn up in any searches.

By contrast, when Franks’ claims “some medical experts” dispute anti-choice assertions about fetal pain, it is referring to the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, among others—in other words, actual doctors and researchers.

For instance, in a June 2012 statement opposing an earlier version of Franks’ bill, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the following about fetal pain:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes HR 3803, the District of
Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and other legislative proposals that are not based
on sound science or that attempt to prescribe how physicians should care for their patients. … The medical profession produced a rigorous scientific review of the available evidence on fetal pain in
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2005. The review concluded that fetal
perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. No new studies since the publication of the
JAMA paper have changed this dominant view of the medical profession. Supporters of HR 3803 only present studies which support the claim of fetal pain prior to the third trimester. When weighed together with other available information, including the JAMA study, the supporters’ conclusion does not stand.

In a thorough review of evidence released in June 2010, the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists stated the following:

The fetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks because the connections in the fetal brain are not fully formed; Evidence examined by the Working Party showed that the fetus, while in the chemical environment of the womb, is in a state of induced sleep and is unconscious; and, because the 24 week-old fetus has no awareness nor can it feel pain, the use of analgesia is of no benefit.

And a 2010 article in New Scientist includes a Q&A in which Mark Rosen of the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of the seminal 2005 review on fetal pain rebutted each one of the claims made in a fetal pain bill then under consideration by the Nebraska legislature.

Still, the AP fantastically pretends this is a “partisan disagreement.” In its story on the hearing, for example:

Bill sponsor Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and others argued that there is evidence — a contention Democrats say is unproven — that fetuses can feel pain after five months, justifying a ban on later abortions.

Actually, no. Democrats may be citing evidence, but it is from doctors and researchers—it is evidence that says fetal pain is non-existent. This is not partisan, this is scientific knowledge.

Meanwhile, the New York Times made no effort at all to dispel, with comments from researchers or physicians, the fallacious quotes included in its story from members of the committee.

In short, there is no evidence for the claims made in this legislation; the only evidence that does exist is that the GOP will go to any lengths necessary to prevent women from making the best decisions for themselves and their families in their own real-life circumstances, even when women’s lives are at risk—even when a fetus has no brain. It is important to ask: In what other area would the media be allowed to get away with parroting outright lies about medical findings based on a political party with a clear agenda?

This is a dangerous bill, and some major media outlets are helping make it more so.

Commentary Law and Policy

Reproductive Rights Are Critical to an Open Society and the Promise of Equality

Dr. Megan L. Evans

Two recent international cases on the topic of reproductive rights are reviewed as well as a discussion of these rights in an open society.

This is a cross posting from The Open Society Foundations by Rachel Hart

A 14-year-old girl is raped. She tries to get an abortion. Hospital after hospital turns her away. A Roma woman giving birth is sterilized. She finds out only years later. Her doctor says it was because her people are lazy.

Deciding whether and when to become a parent is one of the most private and important decisions a person can make. For women, in particular, the ability to control decisions pertaining to their reproductive health means they control their own destiny. For this reason, reproductive rights are an essential component of an open society, without which women cannot enjoy full equality.

In recent weeks the European Court of Human Rights handed down two critical judgments on reproductive rights: protecting access to abortion after rape and prohibiting involuntary sterilization. The facts are very different, but both cases underscore the importance of personal autonomy in matters of reproduction and demonstrate why protecting reproductive rights underpins an open society.

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P. and S. v. Poland

P. was fourteen when a classmate raped her. She reported the crime to police and sought medical care, but was never offered emergency contraception. Weeks later P. discovered she was pregnant. Determined to end her pregnancy, P. endured harassment and humiliation while navigating some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Hospitals in her hometown of Lublin refused to provide her medical care. One doctor told P. she needed a priest not an abortion. The hospital in Warsaw also refused, and P.’s identity was leaked to anti-choice protesters and journalists. P. and her mother went to the police for help. Instead, they were interrogated for hours and P. was placed in a juvenile detention center.

Finally the Ministry of Health intervened. P. and her mother made the long journey to yet another hospital in Gdansk. By then, P. was just a few days shy of Poland’s 12-week cut off for abortions in cases of rape. The hospital agreed to perform the abortion but refused to admit P. as a patient. P. and her mother were told to leave as soon as the abortion was over.

The Court ruled that Poland’s actions violated several Articles in the European Convention of Human Rights including the right to privacy (Article 8), the right to liberty and security (Article 5), and the prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3). The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the plaintiffs before the Court, provides a more detailed explanation of the case and how the ruling sets new precedent regarding the sexual and reproductive rights of young women.

I.G. and Others v. Slovakia

When pregnant Roma women were admitted into Krompachy Hospital in eastern Slovakia to give birth they were segregated into special “Gypsy rooms” and made to use separate bathrooms. But the discrimination they faced in the hospital ward paled in comparison to what happened once they were under anesthesia.

The three women in this case were all sterilized against their will after undergoing a caesarean delivery. Their stories corroborate a documented pattern of deceit and coercion at the hospital: evidence of nurses obtaining last-minute “authorization” for sterilization after administering anesthesia to a patient and doctors misleading or threatening women after the fact so that they would retroactively sign “consent” papers. In some cases women were never told they were sterilized, and only found out years later.

Criminal investigations into the sterilization practices at Krompachy Hospital went nowhere. Prosecutors maintained that the women’s health had not been harmed and their rights had not been infringed, while doctors involved argued that sterilization was necessary because Roma did not know “the value of work.” In its ruling the Court found that Slovakia had violated the Convention, namely the right to privacy (Article 8) and the prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3).

Reproductive Rights and Open Society

Women and girls on the margins—especially teenagers, Roma, women with disabilities, poor women, women engaged in sex work or who use drugs, and women living with HIV—are most at risk of having their reproductive rights infringed upon. Human rights organizations need to be engaged in efforts to protect women’s reproductive rights. We need to empower women and girls so they can be their own best advocates.

There are still so many places in the world where women do not have the right to make decisions pertaining to their reproductive health. Instead, the authorities decide when a woman should or should not have children. She has no control over the path her life will take. Everyone except the woman herself is able to decide what is in her best interest. She either is too young, too irresponsible, too incompetent, too lazy, or too poor to decide whether to end a pregnancy or have a child.

When women control their reproductive destiny it helps dismantle the idea that their gender exists only to care for others. Women are given the prerogative to lead their lives as they wish: To go to school. To pursue a career. To stay at home. To raise a family. To not have children or to have a number of their choosing. This can only happen when reproductive rights are acknowledged as human rights and are not sidelined to the margins of the movement.

This is why the Open Society Foundations has supported efforts to protect and defend reproductive rights around the world. These cases would not have been possible without the work of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, and the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Slovakia, and we hope that the decisions will have a ripple effect on other human rights bodies and courts around the world.

The promise of an open society is a promise of equality. For women this means being able to control decisions pertaining to reproduction: whether she is a 14-year-old rape survivor in Poland trying to end an unwanted pregnancy or a Roma woman in Slovakia who was sterilized against her will. Without reproductive rights, women will never experience what an open society means. 

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