European Court of Human Rights Targets Poland Pro-Life Laws

International   |   Lauren Funk   |   Jun 2, 2011   |   3:34PM   |   Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France ( –“Polish sovereignty to limit abortion is under strong political pressure from supranational bodies,” Grégor Puppinck of the European Center for Law and Justice told the Friday Fax.

Puppinck was commenting on the recent ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on the case R.R. v Poland that is the newest in a constellation of cases from the ECHR that challenge Poland’s abortion laws. Polish laws on abortion are among the strictest in Europe and allows for therapeutic abortion only in a limited number of medically-determined situations.

In the R.R. v Poland case, the applicant, after being informed that her foetus was probably malformed, was denied genetic testing during the period in which an abortion would be legal if the child was found to have an incurable, life-threatening disease.  She gave birth to the child, who has a genetic abnormality that causes physical defects. She brought a claim against the Polish government that her doctor’s refusal to perform prenatal genetic testing was a violation of her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.  The Court ruled in her favor.

The case was “perfectly built” by the pro-abortion lobby, explained Puppinck.  The case was not made available though the normal channels of information, a lack of transparency that “deprived pro-life advocates of any chance of action.”  The admissibility of the case was also questionable, and according to Puppinck, “the Court had many good reasons to dismiss the case, but didn’t.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Health intervened as a third party on behalf of the applicant, a move that is unprecedented in the ECHR.  Claiming to represent the consensus among UN treaty monitoring bodies and international health organizations, the Rapporteur said, “The right of a health care provider to conscientiously object to the provision of certain health care services must be carefully regulated.”

“It is quite questionable that a United Nations Special Rapporteur makes a stand as such, and in the name of United Nations organs, in favor of one of the parties.  Is pro-abortion lobbying part of the Special Rapporteur mandate?” asked Puppinck.  “It is a kind of abuse of authority.”

While many pro-abortion organizations are claiming the R.R. ruling as an advancement of abortion rights, such an assessment is excessive, according to Puppinck.  The decision was issued by a lower chamber of the ECHR, and could be appealed within three months to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

Perhaps more importantly, the Court specifically upheld, for the first time, the right to conscientious objection of medical practitioners.  The R.R. ruling clearly delineated that the state’s obligation to ensure patient’s access to services (including prenatal genetic testing and lawful abortion) rests with the State, and not with individual health professionals.  As such, the ruling was a defeat of the pro-abortion lobby’s “primary goal of destroying the right to conscientious objection.”  It is the first time that the Court used this concept [of conscientious objection] for medical practitioners,” explained Puppinck. Note: Lauren Funk writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.