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Women have the right to informed decision on whether to terminate their pregnancy, says European Court of Human Rights

[Brussels, 10 June 2011] The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Poland has repeatedly violated the human rights of a woman by refusing her diagnostic care while pregnant. After the doctors detected a cyst on the foetus’s neck on a routine sonogram the woman requested further genetic examination but this was repetitively refused. These tests would have helped R.R. to make an informed decision whether to terminate the pregnancy or not.

The access to a legal and safe abortion is a fundamental sexual and reproductive right which should be enjoyed without obstacles by all women in Europe. Unfortunately, recently in the EU, there has a growing influence of anti-choice movements, conservative religious movements, more cases of conscientious objection among medical professionals and insufficient access to information and services for all women. Such is the case of the anti-abortion group “Life” advising the UK government on sexual health. [1] Another recent example is the anti-abortion ad campaign of the Hungarian government, which the European Commission insisted to be withdrawn and stopped immediately.

Poland is one of the European countries with the most restrictive abortion legislation. Partially influenced by the strong power of the Catholic Church, the 1993 Family Planning Act allows terminating a pregnancy only if the health of the woman is in danger, there is a high risk of foetal impairment or the pregnancy is the result of crime. In all other cases, abortion is illegal.

In this case, the Court has ruled out that the doctors are imposing anti-abortion ideologies and are obstructing R.R. from seeking a legal abortion, a right that she is entitled to. In an effort to prolong the pregnancy the doctors have even hospitalized R. R. without further explanation. [2]

The woman was represented by lawyers from the Polish Federation for Women in Family Planning and the University of Warsaw Law Clinic with the Centre for Reproductive Rights. The Court’s decision is pioneering since it is the first one to condemn abortion-related violation. Moreover, the Court found that the Polish legal system is not providing sufficient compensation for R.R.

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