Come 2022, Poland is planning to start a centralized, digitized registry that would require doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government, the Guardian reports. The proposed registry comes about a year after the country enacted a nationwide, near-total ban on abortion.
A spokesperson for the country’s ministry of health denies that the project in the works would amount to a registry of pregnancies and pregnancy losses and insists this tracking of pregnancies would just be part of a “wide-ranging digitalization project that will update the way data about a multitude of conditions, including allergies, is stored.” The only change, they claim, is that information about pregnancies will now be stored digitally by the government instead of on paper in hospitals, which… is a pretty big and even dangerous change in a country that bans most abortions.
It’s particularly chilling to watch what’s unfolding in Poland while the US Supreme Court’s 6-3 anti-abortion majority has just made its distaste for pregnant people’s human rights clear in oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
Variations of Poland’s so-called “wide-ranging digitalization project” are already happening here in the US and have been for some time. Here, 46 states and DC require some form of reporting abortions to the state government. Numerous states, most recently including Ohio, also require people to obtain death certificates for their aborted fetuses, which enters their abortions into the public record. And in among the most blatant, known moves to track people’s pregnancies, miscarriages, and possible abortions, the director of Missouri’s health department was exposed for tracking state Planned Parenthood patients’ menstrual cycles on a spreadsheet in 2019.
Beyond the obvious ick factor of these abortion and pregnancy tracking efforts by the US government, policies like this can also put pregnant people at significant legal risk. It’s worth noting more and more people are ending their pregnancies with abortion pills instead of procedural, in-clinic abortions, and the effects of abortion pills can’t medically be distinguished from a miscarriage. In a post-Roe America, or in states like Texas that ban or criminalize abortion, a miscarriage could be criminal, or at least criminally suspect. In the absence of the legal right to abortion, all pregnancies and pregnancy losses would be treated as potential crime scenes.
Anti-abortion politicians and groups have been laying the groundwork for this future for years. There have been several noted cases of anti-abortion groups colluding with popular fertility tracking apps to gain access to users’ personal data, including menstrual cycles and pregnancies, while Heartbeat International, a major anti-abortion organization and crisis pregnancy center conglomerate, stores its hotline conversations with “abortion-minded” pregnant people to use “for any and all purposes.”
The emphasis Poland’s ministry of health spokesperson seemed to place on the forthcoming pregnancy registry as mere “digitalization” of existing records isn’t at all as comforting as they seem to think it is, seeing as digital forensics have increasingly been used to criminalize people for the outcomes of their pregnancies, or self-managing their abortions. Here in the US, there have been several cases of people who have lost their pregnancies or induced their own abortions facing criminal charges of feticide and child abuse laws, with their online searches for abortion pills and text messages used as evidence against them.
Fears about Poland’s digitized registry, set to launch this January, also stem from Parliament recently voting to create a state “institute of family and demographics,” which would be tasked with educating citizens on the “vital role of family to the social order,” as well as the importance of “cultural-social reproduction.” Most alarmingly, the institute would keep Polish citizens’ personal data and have prosecutorial powers to enforce family law, per the Guardian — this could certainly include enforcing the country’s abortion ban.
Polish activists are already protesting the pregnancy registry and institute of family and demographics. Some have since launched a social media initiative to “politely report that I am not pregnant,” calling on people to email photos of used sanitary pads, tampons, and underwear to Poland’s ministry of health, and share screenshots on social media. It certainly reminds of 2016’s “Periods for Pence” social media campaign in Indiana, which called on menstruating people in the state to bombard former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office with updates and information about their periods, after he signed an abortion ban into law. Periods for Pence’s founder explained the campaign as a way to raise awareness that “fertilized eggs can be expelled during a woman’s period without a woman even knowing” she’s pregnant.
The bleak, dystopian parallels between reproductive rights in Poland and the US are an important reminder that the anti-abortion movement’s goals of forced pregnancy and birth are international, and rising threats to pregnant people’s rights anywhere are threats to pregnant people’s rights everywhere.