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Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers: authorities should take measures to ensure access to legal abortion in Poland

At the September session, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers asked Polish authorities to take measures that would provide women with effective access to legal abortion in Poland, in particular in situations where a woman’s pregnancy results from a crime.

Committee recommendations

The Committee of Ministers is a body of the Council of Europe responsible, among other things, for the supervision of Member States’ execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. During the session which took place from 19 to 21 September 2017, the Committee considered a case about the absence of access to legal abortion, which was lost by Poland (P. and S. v. Poland).

The Committee of Ministers invited Polish authorities to reflect further on measures to provide women seeking a lawful abortion with full and credible information on the steps they should take to exercise this right, in particular when a pregnancy results from a criminal act.

In this context, the Committee asked for clarification on how Polish authorities will ensure that women seeking lawful abortion receive full and credible information about accessing the health care services to which they are entitled to in a situation when a doctor invokes the conscience clause. Moreover, the Committee invited the authorities to provide information on the general availability of lawful abortion in the Polish healthcare system, as well as on actions taken against doctors who have failed to fully comply with their contracts with the National Health Fund in respect of lawful abortion.

The above means that the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will continue to supervise the execution of the judgment in P. and S. v. Poland.

HFHR: Criteria for objecting doctors’ decisions still too formalistic

Prior to the Committee’s session, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights sent a communication to the Committee, in which it emphasised that there were no mechanisms in Poland that would provide women with practicable access to legal abortion. The Foundation noted that no changes in the law have been made in this respect. At the same time, the existing procedure for objecting against a certificate or opinion of a doctor who refuses to perform an abortion is too formalistic and does not guarantee that the final decision is issued before the end of the period in which a pregnancy may be legally terminated.

The HFHR also stated that its communication did not refer to the existing legal framework for legal abortions but only discussed the procedural aspects that are supposed to guarantee that women can use abortion whenever the Polish law so allows.

The Foundation’s communication for the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available for viewing here.

The Committee of Ministers’ decision on the supervision of the execution of P. and S. v. Poland can be read here.

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