DEFENDING LIFE IN POLAND
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is honoured to request the support of lawyers and NGOs for several important cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). These cases were staged to challenge the ban on eugenic abortion in Poland. We have already mentioned these cases in an article: now we give you more details and tell you how you can concretely support our action, before 27 September 2021.
On 1 July 2021, the ECHR communicated a series of 12 applications against Poland (see links: K.B., K.C. and A.L. – B.. as well as the Court’s press release). All were filed by Polish women who consider that the ban on eugenic abortion violated their right to privacy (Article 8) and amounted to mental torture (prohibited by Article 3). The applicants are between 27 and 40 years old and say they are very “worried” and “stressed” by the fact that they won’t be able to eliminate a hypothetical disabled child. The Polish Constitutional Court ruled on 22 October 2020 (case K 1/20, in which the ECLJ intervened), that eugenic abortion was contrary to human dignity and thus unconstitutional.
Several applicants claim to be reluctant or to have given up on starting a family because of the ban on eugenic abortion. Others, who were pregnant at the time of filing the application, would have wanted to feel “happiness” and not “anxiety” at the idea of not being able to abort their child in the event of the discovery of a potential disability. Finally, for some requests, it is difficult to understand the link between the women’s wishes and eugenic abortion. For example, one uses contraception and does not want to be pregnant at all, but she says she is “very worried”. Another, who is 40 years old, says she is infertile, has already tried three unsuccessful in vitro fertilisations (IVF), does not want to have any more children, but still complains of “mental torture” because of the ban on eugenic abortion.
Surprisingly, all of these applications were deemed serious enough by the ECHR to be selected from the 5% of applications it accepts to juge, and urgent enough to be given clear priority.
The ECHR could, and should, have rejected such applications from the outset because:
- The European Convention guarantees the “right to life”, not a right to abortion, let alone eugenic abortion which discriminates against disabled people;
- None of the applicants were victims of the prohibition of eugenic abortion, within the meaning of Article 34 of the European Convention. None of the applicants were victims of the prohibition on eugenic abortion within the meaning of Article 34 of the European Convention, as no such abortion was requested by any of the twelve women, who are, at most, only hypothetical or potential victims;
- The applicants applied directly to the European Court, without exhausting domestic remedies, in violation of Article 35 of the Convention and of the principle of subsidiarity;
- The Court rejects in principle “actio popularis,” i.e. legal remedies brought by persons who are not victims and have with the sole aim of changing the law.
Furthermore, it is doubtful whether the European Convention offers a legal guarantee against the anxiety or stress caused by the idea of pregnancy, but also whether this anxiety can reach a sufficient degree of intensity to be qualified as “torture” within the meaning of the Convention, even supposing that the reality of this hypothetical psychological state be proven, and that it be imputable to the State. These claims also imply that pregnancy would be an inevitability from which the state has an obligation to protect women.
In fact, if it were not for the issue of abortion and Poland, these applications would have been rejected out of hand, by a single judge. Unfortunately, with these cases, the Court is once again accepting to be instrumentalised for purely political purposes, to “bring down” Polish legislation protecting human life before birth, as it previously helped to bring down Irish legislation.
A thirteenth application against Poland, brought by Jolanta Anna Zawadzka, was also communicated on 29 June 2021. The feminist activist is challenging, on the grounds of her freedom of expression, the fact that she was fined for disrupting a mass in Warsaw in 2016 to protest against the Church’s position on abortion. Both her lawyers see the case as part of the demand for abortion rights in Poland.
We observe an increase in the number of abortion cases against Poland. As we already explained, the ECLJ intervened in September 2020 in the case of B.B. v. Poland, still pending before the Court, in which the Polish law on abortion and conscientious objection are challenged.
In the past, the ECHR has already condemned Poland three times in abortion cases, in the judgments Tysiąc (2007), R.R. (2011) and P. and S. (2012). The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is responsible for monitoring the execution of these three judgments. The ECLJ recently intervened in this still open and abusive supervision procedure, between 9 and 14 years after these judgments.
All these cases are of the utmost importance: they are a decisive fight for the protection of life and sovereignty against supranational judicial activism.
The ECLJ was authorised to intervene in all 12 pending applications to defend life and oppose the instrumentalization of the European Convention on Human Rights. We invite professors, judges, lawyers and NGOs who would like to support our intervention at the European Court to write to us ([email protected]). We must receive this support before 27 September 2021.This is free of charge and without personal legal risk. It is to support at the ECHR the written observations that we shall submit.
The ECLJ frequently intervenes before the ECHR. It was also a third party before the Polish Constitutional Court in the K 1/20 case and the press noted the important influence of our intervention in this case (see Euronews, or Wiadomości in Poland). The ECLJ also intervenes before other courts or bodies. All our written observations can be found here.
It is interesting to note that, both at the ECHR and at the Committee of Ministers, but also in the pro-abortion demonstrations in Poland, the issue of eugenic abortion is at the heart of the battle. Before their ban in Poland, these abortions were mainly targeted at children with Down’s syndrome. However, people with Down’s syndrome do not suffer and are generally happy.
This demand for eugenic abortion is made in the name of women’s rights. However, unlike the reasons usually given to justify abortion – rape, danger to the health or life of the mother, or simply the mother’s choice – eugenic abortion is based on a characteristic of the baby, unrelated to the mother. Abortion is not then an attempt at family planning or a response to a health or social need of the mother, it is an assumed selection between “healthy” children and sick, handicapped or with Down’s syndrome children. It is not a general refusal of the right to be born, it is a rejection of sick, disabled or with Down’s syndrome people. This is called eugenics and it is no less shocking before birth than after.
 Tysiąc v. Poland, n° 5410/03, 20 March 2007 ; R.R. v. Poland, n° 27617/04, 26 May 2011; P. & S. v. Poland, n° 57375/08, 30 October 2012.
 See inter alia, on abortion: A., B. & C. v. Ireland (n° 25579/5), P. & S. v. Poland (n° 57375/08) Adelina Parrillo v. Italy (n° 46470/11), M. P. and others v. Romania (n° 39974/10), Costa and Pavan v. Italy (n° 54270/10), Schlittner-Hay v. Poland (nos 56846/15 et 56849/15), B. B. cv Poland (n° 67171/17).
 ECLJ’s Contribution to the drafting of the General Comment No. 36 on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life (October 2018) ; Amicus brief in the case Manuela and others v. El Salvador at the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (n° 13.069) ; Amicus brief in the case n° III/01838/2020 at the Hongarian Constitutionnal Court, SCOTUS Amicus brief in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (n° 19-1392).