14-year-old rape victim hindered in abortion attempts

Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 00:00

THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights has ruled that Poland violated the human rights of a 14-year-old girl, pregnant as a result of rape, in failing to ensure she could obtain a lawful abortion unhindered.

The judgment may have implications for Ireland, where the failure of the State to provide a legal framework for abortion, under terms set down by the Supreme Court, is also under consideration by the Strasbourg-based court.

The court found that the Polish girl was given contradictory information by two public hospitals, was forced to see a priest by one gynaecologist, was refused an abortion by the same gynaecologist and in the end forced to travel 500km from her home to Gdansk to have the abortion.

Her difficulties were “in particular due to the lack of a clear legal framework, procrastination of medical staff and also as result of harassment”, according to a statement from the court’s registrar released yesterday.

“The court was particularly struck that the authorities started criminal proceedings for illicit sexual relations against the adolescent who, according to the prosecutor and medical reports, should have been considered the victim of sexual abuse,” said the ruling.

The case is known as P and S v Poland, P and S being the daughter and her mother, born in 1993 and 1974 respectively, living in Lublin. In 2008, when she was 14, P became pregnant having been raped.

In order to obtain an abortion in accordance with Polish legislation, P and her mother obtained a certificate from the public prosecutor on May 20th, 2008 to the effect that her pregnancy had been the result of rape. They then encountered “considerable difficulties in obtaining access to an abortion”, according to the judgment.

They received contradictory information from two public hospitals in Lublin as to whether they needed a referral from the regional consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician, whether there was a waiting time prescribed by law and what other conditions, if any, they had to comply with.

The head of the gynaecological ward in one hospital took P to see a priest without asking if she wanted to see him. The priest tried to convince her to carry the pregnancy to term and asked for her mobile number, which she gave.

“Ultimately, after an argument with S, the head gynaecologist refused to allow the abortion to be preformed on her ward, relying on her religious views.”

The hospital then issued a press release saying it had refused P an abortion, giving rise to media attention and harassment of the girl by anti-abortion campaigners.

Mother and daughter then travelled to Warsaw. P was told in a public hospital there she could have an abortion but would have to wait three days. In the meantime she was receiving texts from the priest and the doctors told her they were under public pressure to refuse the abortion.

They left the hospital on June 5th, 2008 “feeling manipulated and helpless” and were harassed by anti-abortion activists. The same day Lublin Family Court ordered P’s placement in a juvenile shelter as part of proceedings to divest S of parental rights, stating P was under pressure from S to have the abortion. Police drove P to Lublin where she was taken into care.

S complained to the Ministry for Health and was eventually told P could have an abortion in Gdansk. The abortion was carried out on 17th June, 2008. P testified in February 2009 she had not been forced by S to have an abortion.

The European Court of Human Rights held that Poland must pay P €30,000 and S, €15,000, as well as €16,000 each for costs.