By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
Strasbourg, France – The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a Polish rape victim, at the time 14 years of age, should have had access to an abortion. The court further order Poland to pay the girl, known only as “P,” and her mother, 61,000 € (£49,000; $ 79,000) in compensation.
In May 2008, when “P” was 14, she received a certificate from a local prosecutor in Lublin stating that her pregnancy was the result of the illegal act of rape. Poland has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, allowing pregnancy termination only in cases of illegal acts such as rape and incest, or if the life of the mother or fetus is at risk.
However, despite her mandated certification for a legal abortion, “P” was turned away at her local Lublin hospital, where a Roman Catholic priest attempted to sway her to continue her pregnancy, and hospital officials issued a press release stating they would not perform the abortion.
In Warsaw (~ 150km NW of Lublin), “P” was met by hospital staff afraid to terminate her pregnancy due to pressure from pro-life groups and the media.
According to court documents, “P” and her mother “fe[lt] manipulated and helpless,” were harassed by pro-life groups, and were questioned by police. A criminal case against “P” for illicit sexual relations was started by authorities, although eventually dropped. The case against her alleged rapist was also dropped by authorities. At one point, authorities accused “P’s” mother of forcing her daughter to have an abortion and had “P” temporarily placed in a juvenile shelter.
Eventually, “P” was able to get her legal abortion in Gdansk, Poland, 500km (300 mi) from home.
The Court found that the case presented two violations of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “the determination of access to lawful abortion” and “the disclosure of the applicants’ personal data”; a violation of Articles 5 and 1 outlining the right to liberty and security, and a violation of Article 3 prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment.
Specifically, the Court held that “P” should have been unhindered in her attempt to get an abortion, and that the laws and medical staff she encountered created such a hindrance. The Court noted “P’s” difficulties “in obtaining access to an abortion, in particular due to the lack of a clear legal framework, procrastination of medical staff and also as a result of harassment.”
Finally, the Judges ruled that “P” had been given “misleading and contradictory information and had not received objective medical counseling.” They further stressed that those who tried to stop “P” from terminating her pregnancy with a press release were not excused for their behavior: “the fact that access to abortion was a subject of heated debate in Poland did not absolve the medical staff from their professional obligations regarding medical secrecy.”
The decision of the court is subject to further appeal.
Lastly, the court awarded “P” 30,000€ (£24,000; $39,000) in damages and her mother 15,000€ (£12,000; $19,500), plus legal costs, from the Polish state.
Although abortion laws in the staunchly Roman Catholic Poland are not likely to relax anytime soon, there is a chance that such will happen in the future. Last month, legislation was proposed, although with very little chance of success, in the Polish Parliament that would have legalized abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
“P” is also not the first person to successful challenge the Polish abortion system. Famously, Alicja Tysiac won a case in 2007 when she was denied an abortion after eye doctors told her giving birth could make her go blind.
Today, Polish women continue to struggle through the legal abortion system, and many wanting abortions for illegal reasons go underground or out of the country. These abortions are expensive, often costing a month’s salary. While the government claims that on average 300 abortions are performed annually (against a population of 38 million), the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning estimates this number to be somewhere between 80,000 and 200,000, many of them illegal.
For further information, please see:
Huffington Post – Poland to Pay Compensation to Teen Rape Victim Over Abortion ‘Harassment’ – 31 October 2012
BBC News – Polish Rape Victim ‘Should have had Abortion Access’ – 30 October 2012
Chicago Tribune – Europe Rights Court Condemns Poland in Abortion Rape Case – 30 October 2012
GlobalPost – Polish Teen Should have had Access to Abortion After Rape, Court Rules – 30 October 2012
Poliske Radio – Poland Must Compensate Teenage Rape Victim Denied Abortion – 30 October 2012
Christian Science Monitor – Staunchly Catholic Poland Takes a New Look at Easing Abortion Laws – 13 September 2012