European Court of Human Rights Sets Standards for the Rights of Adolescents to Reproductive Health Services
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland violated an adolescent’s human rights when her access to a legal abortion after being sexually assaulted was repeatedly obstructed. The Court, for the first, time addressed the special vulnerability of adolescents in need of abortion care and confirmed young people’s autonomy when it comes to their reproductive health.
In 2008, P., then 14 years old, became pregnant after being sexually assaulted by a classmate. Supported by her mother, S., she attempted to obtain a legal abortion, but encountered multiple obstacles, including doctors’ refusal to perform a legal abortion and failure to provide a referral to a provider who would. Hospital staff repeatedly gave P. and her mother deliberately distorted information about the legal requirements to access abortion care. And after medical personnel disclosed P.’s personal and medical data to the press, she and her mother were harassed by doctors, anti-abortion groups, and representatives of the Catholic Church. At one point P. was removed from her mother’s custody and detained in a juvenile center.
P. finally received a legal abortion following an intervention from the Ministry of Health in a remote hospital, 500 km from her home, where she was not registered as a patient and did not receive information about the procedure or any post-abortion care.
In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights found violations of the rights to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, to respect for private life, and to liberty under the Convention. The Court made a number of important findings with respect to Poland’s obligations to guarantee effective access to lawful abortion care, to respect adolescents’ personal autonomy in the sphere of reproductive health, and to ensure the effective protection of information that is personal and confidential. The Court ordered Poland to pay non-pecuniary damages to the applicants for costs and expenses.
The execution of the Court’s judgment in P. and S. v. Poland has been supervised by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Committee of Ministers supervises whether a State has adopted both individual as well as general measures that are necessary in order to execute the Court’s judgements. The Committee of Ministers has adopted a number of decisions regarding the execution of the P. and S. v. Poland judgement. It continues to supervise the case under the enhanced procedure due to the State authorities’ ongoing failure to fully implement the judgment.
Applicants: P. and S.
Partner(s): Reproductive Rights Legal Network of Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning
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