'I would give birth to a dead child'

When Polish doctors told Paulina that her unborn baby had no kidneys and would not survive birth, she felt her only option was an abortion.

And until two months ago, she would still have had a chance at being granted one.

But a ruling imposed in January means that terminating pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities is no longer legal in Poland.

Essentially, there is now a near-total ban on abortions there.

"Everyone says that the reward after the pain of birth is holding your child in your hands, having a child. But I would have nothing. I would give birth to a dead child and that pain would be a thousand times worse."

Polish law now only considers incest, rape, or a threat to a mother's life and health as valid grounds to terminate a pregnancy.

29-year-old Paulina, who wishes to remain anonymous, realized her only option was to find a doctor willing to say that giving birth posed a threat to her health.

A fortnight after she learned of her baby's condition, abortion rights activists helped her find a psychiatrist prepared to say that she needed a termination on mental health grounds.

Her abortion went ahead.

"These people are heroes. That they aren't afraid of the consequences of this sick country that they live in. They are brave and they're here to help people and not to serve politicians."

Support groups told Reuters that Paulina is one of just a dozen or so women who have managed to have an abortion on these grounds since the ruling came into effect.

Several doctors and lawyers Reuters spoke to, like gynaecologist Maciej Socha, maintain that abortions on mental health grounds are lawful.

"If a patient has a brain tumor and continuing the pregnancy threatens her life and health, we can end the pregnancy. If a patient has psychiatric reasons to terminate pregnancy, then in my opinion, this should be enough to end such a pregnancy."

But psychiatrist Aleksandra Krasowska says some medics are concerned over the legal implications of recommending a termination.

Under Polish law, women who undergo an illegal abortion face no penalty, while a doctor can be jailed for up to three years.

"It is impossible to work, it is impossible to treat patients in a situation when doctors acting in good faith and in the best interest of the patient can be made criminally responsible."

Of the four doctors who agreed to support Paulina's case for an abortion, only Krasowska was willing to be named by Reuters.

Many government officials and conservative groups question the legality of aborting on the grounds of mental health.

Poland's Ministry of Health told Reuters in a statement that a specialist in the appropriate field should determine if a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, depending on the woman's illness.

But it did not say if it considered mental health issues sufficient grounds for an abortion.

Poland has seen nationwide protests over the ruling in recent months, which morphed into an outpouring of anger against the country's nationalist government and the powerful Catholic Church.