Janusz Rudzinski's mobile phone rings incessantly. Many Polish women with unwanted pregnancies look to him for help - and the option of having an abortion.

An experienced doctor, Rudzinski is head of a gynaecological department at a hospital in the north-eastern German town of Prenzlau.

He actively campaigns for the protection of women's rights in his native Poland, and is well known there as a result.

"Every woman has the right to self determination, can decide for herself about her body. But in Poland this is denied to them," Dr Rudzinski says.

Abortion laws in predominantly Catholic Poland are among the strictest in Europe. The procedure is only allowed in three exceptional circumstances: if the woman was raped, if her life is in danger or if the child has a severe disability.

And even then, many pregnant Polish women receive no help, says Krystyna Kacpura, director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Warsaw.

The Polish government puts the number of abortions performed annually in the country at 1,000.

Polish doctors often invoke a conscience clause and argue that abortion is ethically unacceptable to them.

Women's rights campaigners say the same happens with the prescription of contraceptives.

The fear of being investigated or becoming a target of protests by anti-abortion activists is so great among Polish doctors, that many refuse to perform the procedure, a Warsaw gynaecologist told the Newsweek Polska newspaper.

Women's rights campaigner Kacpura says that as a result, many Polish women travel abroad for an abortion, for example to Germany.

"There, the women feel better looked after," she says.

Dr Rudzinski, who after working in Poland and Sweden has been practising in Germany since the early 1980s, advises 20 to 25 Polish women each week at the clinic in Prenzlau.

In order to raise the medical costs of around 400 euros, many have to scrape together the last of their money, he says.

Clinics in the Netherlands and Austria also advertise online in Polish. In internet forums, Polish women share information about the procedure and related costs.

But not everyone can afford an abortion abroad, Kacpura says.

Women's rights campaigners warn that poorer woman and those living in rural areas often resort to home remedies and risk their lives - because they see no other way out.

The story of one woman from eastern Poland illustrates the risks some take out of sheer desparation.

"To abort, she inserted a wire through the vagina into the womb," Rudzinski said. "Afterwards she had a fever of 40 degrees and severe abdominal pains. I advised her to go to a hospital immediately.

"Afterwards, she did not contact me again. I don't know if she is still alive."

The Polish government, which has many conservative voters and is close to the Catholic church, wanted to further tighten the already strict law last year.

The planned ban on abortion even included prison sentences for mothers and doctors for terminating a pregnancy.

But many Polish women refused to accept this, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in nationwide protests. The resistance caused the government to backtrack - at least on the abortion ban.

But Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is once again aiming to restrict women's reproductive rights.

According to the national-conservative party's plans, the "morning after" contraception pill, which is currently available over the counter, would only be available with a prescription.

Contrary to medical opinion, some Polish politicians and clerics classify the "morning after" pill not as emergency contraception after unprotected sex, but as a means of abortion.

"The pill does not heal, so it is not a pill that makes you healthy, but a pill that kills," said PiS politician Marek Suski.

Polish Health Minister Konstanty Radziwill, himself a doctor, said in a radio interview that he would not even prescribe the emergency contraception to a woman who had been raped.

"It is like in the Middle Ages," says Dr Rudzinski.

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