(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled
that Poland violated a woman’s human rights when she was repeatedly denied a
prenatal genetic examination after a doctor discovered fetal irregularities
during a sonogram. The test would have informed the woman’s decision on whether
or not to terminate her pregnancy. For the first time in its history, the Court
specifically found that an abortion-related violation amounted to inhumane and
degrading treatment. The Court also cited a violation of the woman’s private
life and ordered the Polish government to compensate her.
“Today’s decision is a groundbreaking victory for women
across Europe. Governments cannot let doctors impose their anti-abortion
ideology on pregnant women who are seeking genetic testing,” said Nancy
Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court has
recognized that withholding information or lawful health services from a woman
deprives her of the ability to make extremely important and private decisions
about her own life.”
Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in
Europe, but the law does allow for abortion in cases of fetal abnormality. In
the ruling, the Court also noted that Poland needs to effectively implement its
law by ensuring women’s access to diagnostic procedures.
R.R.*, the woman who filed a petition against Poland, was
repeatedly sent to numerous doctors, clinics and hospitals far from her home
and even hospitalized for several days without explanation – all in an effort
to prolong her pregnancy. In the end, her pregnancy surpassed the time limit
for abortion on fetal impairment grounds. R.R. is represented by lawyers from
the Polish Federation for Women in Family Planning and the University of Warsaw
Law Clinic with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“Unfortunately, R.R.’s experience is a common one in Poland.
The exceedingly restrictive and unclear abortion law framework in the country
continues to expose women to serious human rights violations. It’s time that
the Polish government enforces its laws and protects the human rights of its
citizens,” said Christina Zampas, senior regional manager and legal adviser for
v. Poland, R.R. argued that her rights to be free from inhuman and
degrading treatment, private and family life, access to justice, and
nondiscrimination were violated and asked that Poland change its practice for
prenatal examinations and women’s access to abortion and its policy on
*The initials used are a pseudonym used to protect the
identity of the client.