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Polish human rights chief calls recent abortion case 'unacceptable'

Polish human rights chief calls recent abortion case 'unacceptable'
Poland’s commissioner for human rights has demanded changes to restrictive abortion law

By Jo Harper

WARSAW (AA) – Poland’s commissioner for human rights has called the refusal of doctors to undertake an abortion in the case of a 14-year old handicapped rape victim unacceptable and called on the government to change Poland’s abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the EU.

"Such behavior is unacceptable," Marcin Wiacek said, adding that it is a violation of the patient's right to obtain a health service.

Wiacek called on the Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski and president of the National Health Fund, Filip Nowak, to take appropriate action.

Hospitals refused to terminate the pregnancy of the resident of Podlasie, in eastern Poland, despite the fact that she was a victim of rape and mentally handicapped and despite the consent of the local prosecutor. The 14-year-old's aunt turned to the Federation for Women and Family Planning and thanks to the NGO’s help, the procedure was carried out in one of Warsaw's hospitals.

The case highlights the difficulties in accessing abortion due to doctors’ invocation of the so-called ‘conscience clause.’

Wiacek said that, in accordance with the standard expressed in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which says that "states are obliged to organize the system of health services in such a way as to ensure that the effective exercise of the right to freedom of conscience of health care workers in a professional context does not prevent patients from obtaining access to the benefits to which they are entitled under the applicable legislation.”

Until 2015, a doctor who invoked the conscience clause was also obliged to indicate the real possibility of obtaining health services from another doctor or a medical entity. Wiacek said this is now lacking in the Polish legal system.

Poland’s health minister, Adam Niedzielski, said this week that the lack of an abortion in this case was “unacceptable."

"We are appalled by this case, here our response is unequivocal,” he said.

A near-total ban on abortion came into effect in 2021 making abortion legal only if the pregnancy is the result of sexual assault or threatens the life or health of the woman.

Left-wing MP Barbara Nowacka said the opposition will draft a bill restricting the use of the conscience clause by doctors.

source: News Feed
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