On 11 March 2021, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued a resolution calling on Poland to adopt, without further delay, long overdue clear and effective procedures for women’s access to lawful abortion care and information.
The resolution expresses serious concerns 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. In these judgments, the Court 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 judgments became final in 2007, 2011, and 2013, respectively. Ample time has passed since the first of these landmark judgments, and yet Poland has repeatedly failed to take effective measures to meet these judgments.
“For too long, women in Poland have been denied access to reproductive health care that they are legally entitled to,” said Kamila Ferenc, Deputy Program Director at the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “Instead of adhering to the European Court’s judgments, the Polish government has sought to further limit the already-highly restrictive abortion law. In fact the recent harmful ‘ruling’ of the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal has further extended and exacerbated the barriers women face in accessing lawful abortion care in Poland and aggravated the chilling effect that Poland’s highly restrictive abortion law and the criminalization of abortion continues to have on the provision of abortion care in the country.”
“Poland has repeatedly failed to take effective steps to enable women’s access to lawful abortion care, failing to meet its human rights obligations,” said Adriana Lamačková, Senior Legal Adviser for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We welcome the Committee’s resolution calling on Poland to take urgent action to ensure effective and timely access to lawful abortion services across the country.”
The resolution urges Poland to ensure that no additional unnecessary requirements are imposed on women by hospitals before they can access lawful abortion care, and to enact a referral obligation for hospitals when healthcare providers refuse to provide medical care under the conscience clause. Moreover, Polish authorities should ensure effective monitoring and enforcement of hospitals’ contractual obligations to provide lawful abortions or prenatal examinations.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Federation for Women and Family Planning submitted a communication on January 29, and supplemental information on February 24 to the Committee of Ministers prior to its meeting on 9-11 March 2021 outlining Poland’s failure to effectively implement the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments and the related decisions of the Committee of Ministers.
The independence and legitimacy of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has been severely undermined by reforms to the judiciary adopted since 2015, and thus the 22 October 2020 announcement of the Constitutional Tribunal cannot be considered to constitute an effective or legitimate constitutional review as required by rule of law principles.
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