U.N. Human Rights Committee Concerned by Poland's Restrictive Abortion Law

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(PRESS RELEASE) Women in Poland may face risks to their health and lives as a result of the country’s highly restrictive abortion law—according to a report released today by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (U.N. Committee).

The U.N. Committee expressed serious concerns about the high number of women in Poland seeking unsafe abortions, which could put their health and lives at risk, because of the country’s restrictive abortion law. The committee also stressed its concern regarding the serious barriers that women who seek access to abortion encounter, including the lengths women are forced to travel to access services. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a report with local Polish human rights organizations, including the Federation for Women and Family Planning, to the U.N. Committee earlier this year to bring attention to serious reproductive rights violations stemming from Poland’s restrictive abortion law.

“For far too long women in Poland have faced insurmountable barriers when they need an abortion,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Today’s response from the United Nations Human Rights Committee confirms the need for Polish lawmakers to take serious legal and practical measures to improve women’s access to reproductive health services. It’s time for the Polish government to amend its laws so women can receive the medical services they deserve with dignity.”

“The very restrictive nature of the existing law itself has generated a punitive and stigmatizing environment and a strong chilling effect on doctors that undermines effective implementation of the law,” Said Krystyna Kacpura, executive director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “We remain very concerned about further attempts to restrict the law, because it is already functioning as nearly a de facto ban on abortion.”

In its recommendations, the U.N. Committee warned Poland not to adopt any new abortion law in the future that would further restrict women’s already very limited access to abortion services.

On October 6, the Polish Parliament halted discussions on a draft bill which would have banned abortion in all circumstances and criminalized women who obtained abortion services, after massive public outcry over the measure with millions of people protesting the ban in Poland and around the world. Reproductive health experts and women’s rights organizations remain concerned that new restrictive initiatives may be introduced in the future.

Abortion in Poland is legal only in very limited circumstances: when the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the woman, when there is a high probability of severe fetal impairments, and when the pregnancy results from sexual assault.  Abortion is illegal in all other cases, and any doctor or person who helps a woman to obtain an abortion outside of the scope of the law is liable to a three-year prison sentence.  Abortion access in practice is even more restricted. There are entire regions of Poland where women who are eligible for legal abortion are unable to find a doctor or hospital willing to perform an abortion under the law.

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