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FactCheck: Has the story of a baby born alive during abortion in Poland opened a debate there?

TheLiberal.ie has republished a post from March of two years ago in this last week of the Irish referendum campaign.


A FACEBOOK POST from Irish site TheLiberal.ie has been been shared hundreds of times since it was posted there on Sunday, 20 May linking to an article on their site, published the same day.

The social sharing and other engagement with the post chimes with the heightened focus on abortion legislation in this final week of the Eighth Amendment referendum campaign here.

However, a near-identical article was posted by the same site two years ago, so we’ve decided to take a closer look.

The claim: “Abortion debate re-opens in Poland after a Down Syndrome baby born alive during an abortion dies unaided screaming for an hour”

The facts: There are two claims in the headline – one that the abortion debate has been reopened in Poland this week, and one that the reason for this is a case of a botched abortion in which a child with Down’s Syndrome remained alive and screaming for an hour after the procedure.

Claim 1: The Liberal article with that headline was published on 20 May 2018, and says that the incident it reports happened in 2016 but that it has risen to the surface again, suggesting that this is because of the current referendum debate here.

From TheLiberal.ie: 

However, the horrific story has again re-opened a national abortion debate in Poland over the past week – perhaps because of Ireland’s abortion upcoming abortion referendum on Friday.

While Polish media shows a marked increase in stories about the country’s abortion legislation this year, it does so (on Google trends) in March when there were protests against government proposals to limit an already restrictive set of abortion criteria there.

google trends Source: Google Trends

(The line at the end of this graph is dotted because data for the past week is not yet available. The previous three weeks which coincide with the referendum campaign proper here show no such increase in interest in the topic of abortion in Poland.)

It is also noteworthy that TheLiberal.ie first published the story on 25 March 2016 under a practically identical headline to that on the story published this week:

poland1 Source: TheLiberal.ie

abortion1 Source: Google Search results

These are the only differences between the 2016 story and the story published last Sunday:

  • The insertion of this aforementioned sentence in the most recent article: “However, the horrific story has again re-opened a national abortion debate in Poland over the past week – perhaps because of Ireland’s abortion upcoming abortion referendum on Friday.”
  • The addition of this sentence to the beginning of the 2018 article: “Yet again, Poland sees a national abortion debate re-open after the story about a horrific botched abortion goes viral.”
  • The insertion of this phrase to a sentence near the top of the story: “…but it’s understood that campaigns from George Soros organised once again shut down debate”.
  • And the addition of this phrase to the final sentence: “…and a referendum is now looking likely”.

CONCLUSION: The claims that this story has resurfaced and gone viral in Poland and that this is because of the Irish referendum debate are FALSE. The re-publication on TheLiberal.ie at this time appears to be an internal editorial decision alone.

Claim 2: That “a Down Syndrome baby born alive during an abortion dies unaided screaming for an hour”.

The story referred to by TheLiberal.ie was first reported by a commercial TV broadcaster in Poland called Republika Television. This story, broadcast on 10 March 2016, is here. It is based on a copy of a letter sent by a Fr Ryszard Halwa, of a pro-life organisation called “The SOS Foundation in Defence of Conceived Life”. The letter, sent to the District Prosecutor’s Office of Warsaw, claims that they had received a report from anonymous employees at the Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, detailing an abortion carried out legally under current Polish legislation.

The abortion, the letter claimed, was of a pregnancy “at about six months” on the grounds that the parents had received a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. The abortion, the letter goes on to claim, did not work and a live child was born but that it died after an hour, having shown signs of life, including “screaming”, having received no medical help.

The letter asked the prosecutor to investigate and prosecute if it finds that a crime has been committed.

A pro-life campaigner mentions the story again in Polish houses of parliament in October of that year, at a time when there were mass protests against proposals to further restrict abortion laws in the country. That campaigner says that the Patient Rights Ombudsman had investigated and, on consultation with consultants, found there had been no violation of the law.

CONCLUSION: Without further first-person accounts of the claims in the letter sent by a third-party to the District Prosecutor and the conclusion reached by the Patient Rights Ombudsman (stated here under parliamentary privilege), it is not possible to conclude the veracity of the details in TheLiberal report. TheLiberal report does not provide any further links or supporting evidence. The conclusion is UNPROVEN.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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