New Resource Highlights Three Cases Against Poland
The newest addition to the Center’s Litigation Briefing Series (English version, Polish version) highlights three pending cases against Poland before the European Court of Human Rights: R.R. v. Poland, P &, S v. Poland and Z v. Poland.
All three cases highlight the human rights violations suffered by Polish women because of that country’s exceedingly restrictive and unclear abortion law. The cases were filed by lawyers from the Center, the Federation for Women and Family Planning’s Reproductive Rights Legal Network, and the University of Warsaw Human Rights Clinic.
This addition to the Litigation Briefing Series is available in both Polish and English. It highlights the context in which these violations occur and provides a description of the case and the human rights claims made, using relevant international and regional human rights law. Also included are recent media excerpts addressing these cases and recommendations to policymakers.
The case R.R. v. Poland centers on a woman who was repeatedly refused diagnostic care while pregnant after a routine sonogram detected a cyst on the fetus’s neck. Genetic tests were repeatedly stalled, preventing her from obtaining timely information on the health of the fetus and hindering her from seeking a legal abortion.
In April 2008, P, then 14 years old, was raped by a classmate. P and her mother, S, reported the rape to the police the next day. P was referred to a health clinic for an examination. Despite her youth and the fact that she was raped, she was not offered emergency contraception, which could have prevented pregnancy. P was legally entitled to an abortion under Polish law, but when she sought one she was denied timely and professional medical attention, continuously harassed by clergy and health care personnel, and temporarily removed from her mother’s custody.
In Z v. Poland, healthcare providers denied diagnostic care and necessary treatment to a pregnant woman suffering from ulcerative colitis, in part because they were afraid properly treating her might harm the fetus. Numerous hospitals and doctors refused to provide medical care, resulting in a miscarriage and ultimately the woman’s unnecessary death.
Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Its law allows abortion only on limited grounds: when the pregnancy endangers the pregnant woman’s life or health, when there is a risk that the fetus suffers from a severe and irreversible impairment, or when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act.
As the three cases above illustrate, even women who are legally entitled to an abortion face formidable and intimidating barriers in obtaining services. These barriers include the unregulated exercise of conscientious objection and the denial of information about women’s health status and the health of their pregnancies.
This lack of access to legal abortion and repeated denial of necessary medical care is a violation of women’s human rights and reflects the continuing violations scores of women in Poland face every day.
In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of a Polish woman who was left blind after she was denied a legal abortion. The Center submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.