Poland: Ruling European Court of Human Rights on denial of prenatal examinations

May 31, 2011

On May 26, 2011, 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 (USA). “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. 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. 

Source: Press release Centre for Reproductive Rights