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Landmark Abortion Decision by European Court of Human Rights

On March 20th, The European Court of Human Rights ruled for the first time, that governments have a duty to establish effective measures for ensuring that women have access to abortions where it is legal.

The court, which was created to systematize the hearing of human rights complaints against States that had adopted the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, delivered a judgment that will award damages to Alicia Tysiac.  Tysiac, a 35-year-old single mother of three from Warsaw suffered a retinal hemorrhage after giving birth that resulted in her eyesight becoming so poor she needs daily medical treatment. Tysiac was denied an abortion by the Polish government despite medical testimony that her pregnancy would seriously impair her failing eyesight.1  The court found that Tysiac’s privacy rights had been violated and her treatment had caused “her severe distress and anguish.” She was awarded $33,000 USD in damages from her case.2 

The ruling further states that member states of the Council of Europe must ensure that abortions are available where they are legal.  Poland maintains one of the least flexible abortion restrictions in Europe, banning and criminalizing it except on medical grounds, risk to life, and where pregnancy results from sexual violence.  This case is significant because Tysiac requested an abortion based on one of the few Polish provisions allowing for a legal abortion.

Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, ”For women around the world, this is a huge victory this is the first time such a court has decided on a state’s failure to ensure access to abortion where it’s legal. The applicant is nearly blind as a result of government failure.”3

The court ruling could also have implications for other European countries with restrictive abortion laws.  Later this year the court may begin hearing a similar case brought in 2005 by three Irish women.4

To read more on sexual and reproductive rights in Poland, please see this previous SIECUS policy update: http://www.siecus.local/policy/PUpdates/pdate0291.html.


Adam Easton, “Polish Woman Wins Abortion Case,” BBC News, 20 March 2007, accessed 25 March 2007,

International Planned Parenthood Federation “Landmark Abortion Decision by European Court of Human Rights,” Press Release published 21 March 2007..

Center for Reproductive Rights “Center for Reproductive Rights Applauds Landmark Abortion Decision by European Court of Human Rights,” Press Release, published 20 March 2007.

IPPF, “Landmark Abortion Decision by European Court of Human Rights,”  Press Release