European Court of Human Rights Rules Poland’s Denial of Legal Reproductive Care Violates Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland’s failure to ensure the applicant’s timely access to prenatal diagnostic examinations and information, which would have enabled her to decide whether or not to seek a legal abortion, violated her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and to respect for her private life.
R.R. v. Poland concerned Poland’s failure to guarantee R.R.’s access to prenatal diagnostic examinations and information, which would have enabled her to decide whether to seek a legal abortion. In 2004, R.R. filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights alleging violations of several rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
At that time, Poland’s restrictive abortion law allowed for abortion in situations where the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk, or where there is a high risk of severe or fatal fetal impairment, or when a pregnancy results from sexual assault. However, in practice, access to abortion care even in these limited circumstances is extremely difficult and women in Poland are often unable to obtain abortion services to which they are legally entitled.
On May 26, 2011, the Court issued its landmark judgment, establishing that Poland had violated Article 3 (the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 8 (the right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court held that Poland must put in place an effective legal and procedural framework that guarantees that relevant, full, and reliable information is available to women to make informed decisions about their pregnancy. The Court also held that Poland must ensure that women’s access to legal reproductive health services is not jeopardized by medical professionals’ refusals of care with reference to the “conscience clause” under Polish law.
The Court ordered Poland to compensate the applicant for non-pecuniary damages and legal fees.
The execution of the Court’s judgment in R.R. 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 R.R. v. Poland judgement. It continues to supervise the case under the enhanced procedure due to the State authorities’ ongoing failures to fully implement the judgment.
Partner(s): Federation for Women in Family Planning, University of Warsaw Law Clinic
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