Tuesday, March 20, 2007
ECHR on abortion
The European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment today finding that the European Convention on Human Rights imposes an affirmative obligation on states parties to provide effective procedures for women to obtain abortions that are legal under national law. The case, Tysiąc v. Poland, concerned a woman who was denied an abortion after being warned by doctors that her pregnancy might put her already deteriorating eyesight at risk, even though Polish law permits abortions to safeguard a woman’s health. While the court relied on Article 8 of the Convention, which establishes the right to respect for private life, its analysis focused not on privacy as such, but on states’ responsibility under this provision to take positive measures to protect women’s physical integrity. Because therapeutic abortions are legal under Polish law, the court did not address the question of whether the Convention itself provides a right to abortion, leaving that issue for another day. However, it did note that Polish law criminalizing most abortions may have a chilling effect on doctors’ willingness to certify the need for a therapeutic abortion, for fear of prosecution. In this context, the court affirmed, transparent, efficient procedures for determining whether a woman’s condition meets the legal standards for a therapeutic abortion are all the more important to Poland’s Convention obligations.