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Polish Government Eliminates Program Covering In-Vitro Fertilization


We're going to turn our attention now to Poland because the government there is facing the ire of a lot of women over family-planning issues. Last fall, an attempt to ban abortions sparked mass protests. That quickly led the government to back down. But the Polish governing party there did succeed in eliminating another reproductive health care program, one that covers in vitro fertilization. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Warsaw.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Wioletta Wojtynksa has tried and failed to get pregnant for nearly four years. Her doctor says her only hope is in vitro fertilization in which her eggs are fertilized with her husband's sperm in a lab and the resulting embryos are placed in her uterus. The IVF procedure, which in Poland costs upwards of $2,000, often requires multiple tries. Wojtynksa says the cost means they've had to make a lot of sacrifices.

WIOLETTA WOJTYNKSA: For example, you can go for a trip - not one trip but a lot of trips. You can live even for this money, half a year. So for us, it's a lot of money.

NELSON: But a Polish government program that covered most of the in vitro costs was immediately cut by the Law and Justice Party when it came to power in late 2015, even though Poland has one of the lowest birth rates in the EU. Catholic Church opposition to IVF is widely seen as one factor in the Polish government's decision. But sociologist Karolina Wigura of the center-left think tank Kultura Liberalna says the attacks on women's health care aren't as much about religion as they are about control.

KAROLINA WIGURA: What is happening resembles the situation in Hungary and also other so-called liberal democracies where women's rights, especially the right to abortion, is somehow used to prevail a certain feeling of fear.

NELSON: Senior Law and Justice MP Malgorzata Gosiewska rejects both explanations. She says eliminating the $100 million IVF program was about saving money.

MALGORZATA GOSIEWSKA: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: The MP adds that her government hasn't abandoned infertile Polish women and offers them an alternative program called Natural Procreative Technology. NaPRO, as it's called for short, is approved by the Catholic Church and involves natural family planning and limited medical and surgical intervention. Marta van der Toolen, who runs the Ferti-Medica clinic in Warsaw, says the government's new program falls far short.

MARTA VAN DER TOOLEN: When somebody is infertile - when somebody doesn't have, for example, tubes, when the sperm is not good, then you can't do anything else, only in vitro. So that's really a pity that the public money is going to the treatment which has nothing to do with modern, Western medicine.

NELSON: She says to make up for the cuts, some city governments have started offering couples financial help for IVF. Wojtynksa, who is a Ferti-Medica patient, says she and her husband are lucky because they've saved enough money for two IVF tries. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Warsaw. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.