Helsinki Foundation intervenes over application of abortion ruling

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) has said it is interceding in the matter of Polish hospitals applying a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) banning abortions on the grounds of foetal damage even though the ruling has not been published.

The foundation said there was no legal basis to deny women a pregnancy termination for foetal abnormalities.

The Helsinki Foundation said on Wednesday that it had decided to check the situation in Polish hospitals, as it had received information that the Swidnik Hospital and the Copernicus Municipal Complex Hospital in Olsztyn, northeastern Poland, had declared that, due to the TK ruling, there was no possibility to perform terminations on the grounds of foetal damage.

The foundation said it was constantly receiving responses from medical facilities to its questions as to the services provided, so the list of hospitals was subject to change, and it said it would present detailed data on the availability of procedures at a later date.

"At the current moment, there has been no change to the legal status and the law is still binding on termination of pregnancy due to embryopathological reasons," Helsinki Foundation lawyer Jaroslaw Jagura said. "Because the TK decision has not been published, there is no legal basis to refrain from conducting abortions. Female patients still have the right to benefit from medical services and hospitals should ensure women the possibility (of abortions - PAP). The foundation declares its readiness to grant legal aid to women who receive a refusal of treatment in such a situation."

The foundation stated that under the constitution, the TK ruling comes into force from the moment it is officially published and not when it is issued.

The Helsinki Foundation also said that doctors' fear of accountability for terminating a pregnancy should not be a justification for refusing abortion on the grounds of foetal damage. All procedures conducted prior to the publication of the ruling in the Journal of Laws should be considered legal and having a legal basis at the time they are performed, the foundation said, adding that there are no grounds to hold doctors criminally liable.

The Foundation also highlighted flaws which, in its opinion, lie in the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal. The HFHR said that, among other errors, the panel included people who were not entitled to sit on the Tribunal because they had already been selected as judges.

The HFHR also said there were irregularities in the selection of the TK president and that there were doubts as to whether the current Tribunal fulfills standards of independence.

The Constitutional Tribunal ruled on October 22 that abortion on the grounds of severe foetal damage was unconstitutional, sparking demonstrations nationwide.