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Committee against Torture Holds Poland Accountable for its Failure to Ensure Women Access to Abortion Services, Urging Poland to Comply with WHO’s Safe Abortion Guidance


During its 51st session, the Committee against Torture deplored Poland’s record of failing to ensure women, particularly women who became pregnant as a result of rape, access to abortion services. Specifically, the Committee against Torture noted in its concluding observations that where women are unable to access abortion services due to the invocation of conscientious objection, they jeopardize their health by turning to unsafe, clandestine abortions, which could amount to violations of the protections against torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The Committee against Torture urged Poland to comply with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems on Safe Abortion (2012) to ensure that conscientious objection does not prevent individuals from accessing services to which they are legally entitled. Furthermore, the committee urged the state to implement a legal/policy framework that enables women to access legal abortion services. Notably, this is the first time that a treaty monitoring body has explicitly urged a state to take measures to comply with the standards set forth in the WHO’s 2012 safe abortion guidance.

In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of P & S v. Poland that Poland’s denial of lawful abortion services to an adolescent amounted to a violation of her right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. In this case, P., who became pregnant as a result of rape at age 14, was legally entitled to an abortion under Polish law. Nonetheless, hospital employees, church officials, and the judiciary harassed and manipulated P. and her mother, S., as part of an effort to prevent P. from accessing abortion services. Finally, after having her personal and medical data disclosed to the public, being refused services by providers invoking conscientious objection, being removed from her mother’s care and placed in a juvenile detention center without cause, the Ministry of Health interfered and she was provided with an abortion. However, she was not registered as a patient, and did not receive information or post-abortion care. The European Court of Human Rights found that this treatment violated the adolescent’s right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to liberty, and the right to respect for private and family life.

Source: Center for Reproductive Rights

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