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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 21:29 GMT
Poland's ambiguous abortion law
European Court of Human Rights
Europe's court has still to decide whether to hear the case
A Polish woman who was refused an abortion despite warnings that having a baby posed a risk for her existing eye problems has taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

BBC Europe analyst Jan Repa looks at abortion legislation in Poland - among the most restrictive in the EU.

Alicja Tysiac maintains that three eye specialists warned her that pregnancy posed a risk for her existing eye problems - but a hospital consultant is said to have ruled that there were no grounds for a therapeutic termination.

Following the birth of her third child, Ms Tysiac suffered a retinal haemorrhage.

In a legal case at home, a district prosecutor decided there was no link between the doctors' decision and her deteriorating vision.

Polish law - changed largely under pressure from the Catholic Church - permits abortion only in cases of rape, where the foetus suffers gross abnormality, or where the woman's life is threatened.

Under the Communist regime, abortion was available virtually on demand.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the abortion issue itself, the present law contains areas of ambiguity.

Key questions

Does it mean, for instance, that a woman can suffer serious physical damage - provided it does not actually kill her?

Opponents of abortion law liberalisation argue that the Polish state has a duty to protect human life.

Poland's Constitutional Court has ruled that since there is - as yet - no precise scientific indication at what point a foetus becomes a human being, it ought to be treated as human, pending evidence to the contrary.

The European Union offers no real guidance on the subject - and abortion legislation varies widely from one member country to another.

Terminations abroad

The Catholic Church in Poland today does not enjoy quite the social authority that it had during the Communist period, when it was widely seen as a repository of national traditions and values.

Nevertheless, for a great many Poles today abortion still carries with it strongly negative connotations - often being associated with Soviet practice.

Part of the problem, some critics say, is the absence in Poland of a final adjudicator in the matter of whether or not a woman should be given permission to terminate a pregnancy.

Decisions are left to individual doctors, who - it is alleged - often say "No" to avoid potential trouble from the country's self-appointed moral watchdogs.

It has also been claimed that some doctors have an insufficient grasp of the difference between morality and legal entitlement.

Ultimately, Polish women who have the money can travel to neighbouring countries, where Polish law does not apply.

On board Poland's abortion ship
07 Jul 03 |  Europe


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