Poland has officially started recording pregnancies in a digital database when people seek medical care, the Associated Press reports. The country, which has a near-total abortion ban with narrow exceptions, proposed the registry late last year and planned to start collecting the data in January, but it was delayed by a few months.
This news is extremely alarming because, when abortion is banned, every pregnancy that doesn’t end in a live birth is a potential crime scene. Polish women’s rights advocates worry that police could use the data if people order abortion pills, travel to another country for an abortion, or simply have a miscarriage or a stillbirth.
But the Polish government swears it’s not doing anything strange here—in fact, it’s simply trying to protect people from X-rays and medicines that could harm them. Per the AP (emphasis mine):
The matter gained attention Monday after Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an ordinance Friday expanding the amount of information to be saved in a central database on patients, including information on allergies, blood type and pregnancies.
The health ministry spokesman, Wojciech Andrusiewicz, sought to allay concerns, saying only medical professionals will have access to the data, and that the changes are being made at the recommendation of the European Union.
The effort, he said, is meant to improve the medical treatment of patients, including if they seek treatment elsewhere in the 27-member EU. In the case of pregnant women, he said this will help doctors immediately know which women should not get X-rays or certain medicines.
“Nobody is creating a pregnancy register in Poland,” he told the TVN24 all-news station.
The functional difference between a “pregnancy database” and a “database that collects health info including on pregnancies” is basically zero for women and pregnant people terrified of living under a near-total abortion ban.
Plus, saying that only medical professionals can access the data is cold comfort because, in the U.S., many cases of pregnancy criminalization happen as a result of healthcare workers reporting patients to the police. And law enforcement has already used people’s internet searches and text messages against them.
Before you say to yourself, “Well, Poland is very Catholic and the U.S. doesn’t have a national medical system, so this would never happen here,” please know that conservative state lawmakers very much want it to happen here.
Several states are pushing bills that would require anyone seeking an abortion to first have a consult with an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center—fake clinics that target low-income people and try to dissuade them from terminating. CPCs get millions in state funding in at least 29 states, but because they don’t provide real medical care, they aren’t bound by medical privacy laws like HIPAA and can collect and share information about, say, who got a pregnancy-dating ultrasound. Arkansas and South Dakota have already passed legislation mandating a CPC visit (though South Dakota’s is currently blocked) and Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have introduced it, according to The Alliance: State Advocates for Women’s Rights & Gender Equality.
Some CPCs are mom-and-pop operations but others are part of national networks with robust data collection. Heartbeat International, for one, “markets to its network of affiliates its content management system called Next Level, which ‘harnesses the power of big data’ and gives anti-abortion centers ‘the ability to enter and access information anywhere at any time,’” according to a 2019 report.
Not only could what’s happening in Poland happen here—it’s already happening here.