The Center for Reproductive Rights reports on a landmark ruling in Europe yesterday:
[T]he European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland violated a woman’s human rights when she was repeatedly denied a prenatal genetic examination after a doctor discovered fetal irregularities during a sonogram. The test would have informed the woman’s decision on whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. For the first time in its history, the Court specifically found that an abortion-related violation amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment. The Court also cited a violation of the woman’s private life and ordered the Polish government to compensate her.
Poland has incredibly restrictive abortion laws, but they do allow for the procedure in cases of fetal abnormality. This brings up some complex issues, as genetic testing can be used to identify non-fatal abnormalities, so patients can choose not to carry a pregnancy to term if their child would be disabled. This complex issue of eugenics is one to be discussed at the macro level, though – it must still be an individual’s decision if they want to carry their own pregnancy to term.
Doctors clearly acted on their own anti-choice beliefs in this case, as the Irish Times reports:
In the Polish case, the married mother of two had an ultrasound scan when 18 weeks’ pregnant which indicated the foetus was malformed.
She told her family doctor she wished to have an abortion if that was the case, which would have been legal at that stage. Two further scans confirmed malformation was likely and a specialist recommended amniocentesis, a test of the amniotic fluid.
Her family doctor refused to refer her for this test. While he was on duty in the local hospital, she and her husband asked him to terminate the pregnancy, but he refused.
She was then referred to a university hospital in Krakow. The doctor there criticised her for seeking an abortion and refused to sanction genetic tests. She was also informed the hospital refused to carry out abortions.
She had an amniocentesis test 23 weeks into her pregnancy and was told the results would take two weeks. The law only permits abortions on the grounds of foetal abnormality before 24 weeks.
When the tests confirmed Turner syndrome, she again asked for an abortion, but was told it was too late. She later gave birth to a child with the condition.
The court noted Poland needs to ensure patients can access diagnostic procedures.
This is an important victory in a country with not only incredibly restrictive abortion laws, but widespread violation even of those laws that prevents patients from accessing the procedure.