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European Court of Human Rights; Poland: Court Rules for Plaintiff in Abortion Rights Case

(June 1, 2011) On May 26, 2011, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a judgment in an abortion case brought by a Polish woman who had been concerned in 2002 that carrying her pregnancy to full term would result in a child with serious deformities. The ruling was six to one in favor of the plaintiff. (R.R. v. Poland, App. No. 27617/04 (May 26, 2011), ECHR website; Press Release, Registrar of the ECHR, “InhumanTreatment” of Mother Denied Timely Access to an Amniocentesis Whose Baby was Born Severely Disabled (May 26, 2011), ECHR website.)

The woman had been denied access to genetic testing and an abortion, and she eventually gave birth to a child with Turner syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality with a wide variety of long-term adverse effects, including greatly reduced stature. (For information on the condition, see What Is Turner Syndrome, Turner Syndrome Society website (last visited May 27, 2011).) The ECHR considered that denial “inhuman treatment” and ruled that articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on prohibition of inhuman treatment and right to respect for private and family life, respectively, had been violated. Since maintaining or ending a pregnancy had a major impact on the woman's private life and physical condition, the Court considered that any outside interference with a decision on continuing the pregnancy had to be evaluated in terms of her right to privacy. (Julia Zebley, Europe Rights Court Rules Against Poland in Abortion Case, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (May 27, 2011); Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Nov. 4, 1950), Council of Europe website.)

The decision, which may be appealed within three months by either party, awarded the plaintiff €45,000 (about US$63,600) in non-pecuniary damages and €15,000 (about US$21,200) for costs. (Zebley, supra.)