8 June 2023 (PRESS RELEASE) – Geneva—On 7 June 2023, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued a decision strongly urging Poland to ensure effective access to lawful abortion, without further delay, and to issue clear and unified guidelines on abortion for hospitals and medical professionals. The decision expresses profound concern about Poland’s longstanding failure to comply with the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments in the cases of Tysiąc v. Poland, R.R. v. Poland and P. and S. v. Poland. Poland has repeatedly failed to take effective measures to implement these judgments.
“The longstanding failure to give practical effect to the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments reflects the Polish Government’s lack of political will to protect reproductive rights and is having devastating consequences for women’s health and lives on a daily basis,” said Kamila Ferenc, Vice-president and lawyer at the Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA). “Poland must stop undermining and ignoring women’s reproductive rights and instead take action to comply with its international human rights obligations to ensure that the right of women and girls to abortion care under Polish law is a reality and not only an entitlement on paper.”
“More than 16 years have passed and no effective measures have been taken to comply with these landmark judgments on access to legal abortion. The failure to implement the judgments is contrary to Poland’s international human rights obligations and is exposing women and pregnant persons to harm endangering their health and lives,” said Keina Yoshida, Senior Legal Adviser for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We welcome the Committee’s decision urging Poland to abide by the European Court’s judgments and emphasize that the Polish authorities must take urgent action to ensure that access to legal abortion is guaranteed.”
In the Tysiąc v. Poland, R.R. v. Poland and P. and S. v. Poland judgments, the European Court of Human Rights found a number of human rights violations, citing the multiple obstacles and deplorable treatment that the applicants faced in seeking access to lawful abortion care in Poland. The cases also concern the authorities’ failure to provide access to reliable information on the conditions and procedures enabling pregnant women and girls, including victims of rape, to effectively access lawful abortion. The judgments became final in 2007, 2011, and 2013, respectively. Since then, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has issued a number of decisions and an interim resolution urging Poland to fully, effectively and promptly implement these judgments.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Foundation for Women and Family Planning on 18 April 2023 submitted a communication to the Committee of Ministers prior to its meeting on 5-7 June 2023 outlining Poland’s ongoing failure to effectively implement the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments and the related decisions of the Committee of Ministers.
In its decision adopted on 7 June 2023, the Committee of Ministers strongly urged the Polish authorities to ensure effective access to lawful abortion and ensure that women, doctors and hospitals have clarity about the entitlements to abortion care. It called on Poland to put in place unified guidelines for hospitals and doctors that would ensure effective access to lawful abortion care across the country and to provide adequate information to women on these procedures. It also urged Poland to enshrine in law the obligation to refer patients to alternative medical providers when care is refused with reference to the conscience clause. The Committee noted with deep concern “the apparent absence of meaningful consideration at the highest decision-making levels of the Committee’s previous decision” and called for action without further delay.
Other measures that Poland is required to adopt include enacting a referral obligation for hospitals when healthcare providers refuse to provide medical care under the conscience clause and effectively monitoring its compliance in practice; and reforming the so called “objection procedure” to ensure that women can challenge and resolve disagreements with and between doctors regarding their entitlement to legal abortion care. Polish authorities should also provide information on refusals to perform abortions and on the numbers of hospitals effectively performing abortions in the relevant regions in relation to the number of women in reproductive age living there.
The decision of the Committee of Ministers requires the Polish authorities to provide an update on the specific measures taken to implement these judgments by 15 December 2023 and implementation of the judgments will be evaluated by the Committee of Ministers in March 2024.
For more information see:
- Poland Called on to Implement Long-Overdue Abortion Measures
- Poland: A Year On, Abortion Ruling Harms Women
- NGO letter to EU Ministers on the rule of law and human rights situation in Poland
- Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Urges Poland to Ensure Access to Lawful Abortion Care
- Submission on Poland to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (April 2023)
Center for Reproductive Rights: [email protected]
Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA): Kamila Ferenc +48 663 107 939.