European Court of Human Rights finds Poland court violated woman’s privacy rights News
LukaszKatlewa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
European Court of Human Rights finds Poland court violated woman’s privacy rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday in a 5-2 vote that a Polish court violated a woman’s right to private and family life by forcing her to travel abroad to receive an abortion due to a fetal anomaly.

In her petition to the ECHR, the applicant asserted that in 2020, she underwent testing which revealed that her fetus had Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome, a chromosomal condition that includes various birth defects and learning problems. On January 26, 2021, a Polish physician agreed to perform an abortion for her two days later, after determining that she qualified for one under Article 4a(1)2 of the 1993 Family Planning Act. However, on January 27, 2021, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal entered a judgment allowing a near-total abortion ban to take effect. The applicant’s scheduled abortion was canceled and she had to travel to the Netherlands for the procedure, which cost her € 1,220.

In its opinion, the ECHR referenced Section 31 of the 2008 law on patients’ rights and the Patients’ Rights Ombudsman, which allows a patient to object to a physician’s opinion or decision. It also referenced Article 23 of the Polish Civil Code, which includes protections for “personal rights.” Ultimately, the ECHR found that the Polish court violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards the right to respect for private and family life. According to the opinion:

The Court notes that it has previously found that legislation regulating the termination of pregnancy touches upon the sphere of a woman’s private life, since whenever a woman is pregnant, her private life becomes closely connected with the developing fetus. A woman’s right to respect for her private life should be outweighed against other competing rights and freedoms invokes, including those of the unborn child.

Poland has some of the EU’s strictest abortion laws. International human rights organizations have characterized the laws as “contrary to international and European human rights standards and public health guidelines.”