Council of Europe Decision Calls on Poland to Immediately Grant Women Access to Legal Abortion Care and Services

(09.21.2018) GENEVA -- The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe today called on Poland to immediately put in place, without further delay, long overdue effective processes for women’s access to legal abortion care. The Committee of Ministers also urged Poland to ensure women’s access to information about abortion and that these procedures are fully and effectively implemented in practice.

The Committee’s decision expresses serious concern about Poland’s longstanding failure to comply with the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in the case of P & S v. Poland issued in 2012. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Federation for Women and Family Planning supported the applicants in bringing their case to the European Court of Human Rights. In its judgment, the Court found a number of human rights violations, citing the multiple obstacles and deplorable treatment that an adolescent girl faced in seeking access to legal abortion care in Poland after becoming pregnant from sexual assault.

“Poland has failed to take any effective steps to enable women’s access to legal abortion services,” said Leah Hoctor, Regional Director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We welcome the Committee's decision calling on Poland to ensure that all women and girls are treated with respect and dignity and be allowed to exercise their right to legal abortion.”

“For too long women in Poland have been denied access to reproductive health care that they are legally entitled to,” said Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “The Committee of Ministers has made it very clear that the government must act swiftly to remove the barriers to legal abortion that women face.”

The European Court held Poland responsible for violations of the rights to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment and to respect for private life and ruled in 2012 that the state must ensure that access to abortion care is effective in practice, and therefore must remove any barriers that continue to hamper access to legal abortion care for women and girls in Poland. However, Poland has not taken any effective steps to comply with the European Court’s judgment.

The Committee of Ministers has expressed serious concern that effective procedures have still not been put in place to ensure women’s access to legal abortion care in Poland. In fact, over the last five years there have been repeated attempts to restrict and roll back women’s access to legal abortion care in Poland through retrogressive legislative proposals. Currently, another such retrogressive proposal is pending before the Polish Parliament, which seeks to remove one of currently only four legal grounds for access to abortion care in Poland. In addition, court challenges have resulted in retrogressive policy changes undermining protections for women in access to legal abortion care. For example, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal in 2015 invalidated as unconstitutional the referral obligation previously imposed on doctors who refuse to perform legal abortion services.