Lawyers say Poland shocked over abortion fine

Warsaw, Poland, Nov 5, 2012 / 03:02 pm (CNA).- Local attorneys say the European Court of Human Right's decision to fine Poland for not helping a girl obtain an abortion four years ago has unsettled many in the country.

“I think it's very sad that it's gotten to this point,” Gabriel Olearnik, a lawyer in Warsaw, told CNA.

“This story encourages Poland to be more inclined now to changing the law because of Europe's lack of sympathy,” he said.

On Oct. 30, the European Court of Human Rights fined Poland $80,000 U.S. dollars for denying an abortion to a girl who was allegedly raped as a 14-year-old in 2008.

Hospitals in the girl's home town Lublin and in Warsaw did not allow her to have an abortion. But the teenager, known only as “P,” eventually had the abortion in Gdansk after the Ministry of Health intervened.

“It's difficult to say if she was raped,” said Olearnik. “We lump different things as rape: there can be statutory rape, non-consensual rape, etc. The problem with rape is that it's very difficult to prove because you are trying to prove the consent, not the act.”

The Strasbourg court, which rules over 47 European countries, labeled the refusal of the abortion to the girl as “inhumane and degrading,” and said she had not received objective medical counseling.

Local attorney Karina Walinowicz called the European court's verdict “completely out of order and conflicting with Polish law.”

“I'm really worried this could dangerously impact future cases,” she told CNA.
Poland’s current law allows for abortion in three cases: rape, if the mother’s health is at grave risk, or if the fetus suffers from a disease or malformation.

Anette Ignatowicz, a former policy advisor for European Dignity Watch – an organization which investigates EU institutions – weighed in that the court's fine “is yet another attempt to push legalizing abortion in Poland."

“It's enough to look at the Centre for Reproductive Rights website to see the cases titled 'high-impact cases' seek to strengthen legal protections for women's reproductive rights in courts and human rights bodies around the world,” Ignatowicz said.

According to statistics, Poland veers towards a pro-life stance, and the tendency is growing, with 76 percent of Poles aged 15 to 24 favoring a total ban on it.

According to one of Poland's biggest opinion poll agency, CBOS, those who viewed abortion as acceptable went down dramatically from 65 percent in 1993 to 9 percent  in 2011. And another Polish market research agency, Grupa IQS, stated that 65 percent of Poles viewed abortion as unacceptable in 2011.  
According to Ignatowicz, Poles not just oppose abortion but also propose solutions to help women.

“This case was of course a very tragic and sad, but was abortion the only solution? No,” she said.

There are now 47 locations in Poland where mothers can bring their babies and leave them anonymously in a safe place to be found and cared for.

Abortion has long lasting effects on women's body and psyche, and there are no studies showing it benefits women pregnant by sexual assault, Ignatowicz told CNA.

“The presumption of benefit is simply that – a presumption,” she said.

Lawyer Gabriel Olearnik, who also serves coordinator for Catholic Voices Polska, added that incest and rape are issues that garner a lot of media attention, despite their rare occurrences.

“We're talking about this as if it's a huge proportion of abortion cases and it's actually not. It's a very small percentage, maybe not even one percent. There is a much bigger issue which isn't being dealt with, which is the push for abortion,” he added.

Olearnik said the U.S.'s “language of right'” with regard to abortion is being exported, without consideration of whether or not it's actually applicable to the country's situation.

“Write good laws that can be applied to the vast majority of cases, and that deal with the small percentage of cases in the best possible way,” said Olearnik.

“Don't write laws which deal only with exceptional circumstances.”

“Abortion doesn't erase the rape,” said Olearnik. “I encourage people to pull the maximum good to look after the girl and the unborn child. You need to be compassionate, but you need to protect both.”  

Poland and Ireland are currently the only two countries in the European Union, which have not implemented the EU's abortion laws.

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