European Top Human Rights Court declines to hear legal attack on Poland’s pro-life protection for unborn babies with disabilities

Strasbourg (12 June 2023) – Is there a “right” to abort unborn babies with health conditions or special needs? 

This was the question raised before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by an organised campaign of pro-abortion activists from Poland. On 8 June 2023 the Strasbourg Court rejected the application of eight Polish citizens claiming to be “potential victims”, of the recently changed Polish law protecting unborn children with disabilities from abortion. The applicants claimed that, hypothetically, they would not be granted abortions on the grounds of “fetal abnormalities” after the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland found that such a reason for an abortion would be contrary to the Polish constitution in 2020.   

ADF International intervened in the case in support of the legal protections for children with disabilities. The Strasbourg Court held that the women had failed to produce any evidence that they were personally affected by the changes in Polish law to protect unborn children with disabilities. As a result the Court dismissed their applications stating that they made claims which were hypothetical and too “remote and abstract” to be considered by the court.

“Every child has a right to life – regardless of her health conditions. Children with special medical needs should be protected and cared for, a truly humane society will care for its weakest members. This is why international law calls for “appropriate legal protection, [for children] before as well as after birth”, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the pressure of a large scale organised pro-abortion campaign, the European Court of Human Rights court has refused to hold there is a “right to abortion” in international law,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for the legal advocacy organization ADF International.   

The decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to protect unborn children with disabilities led abortion advocates to launch a legal campaign against Poland. In AM and Others v. Poland the applicants claim that as women of child- bearing age, legal protections for unborn children with special needs or health conditions infringed on their “right to respect for family and private life” as guaranteed in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. However, Europe’s top human rights court has repeatedly confirmed, that “Article 8 cannot be interpreted as conferring a right to abortion.” (P. and S. v. Poland and A,B,C v. Ireland) 

“The constant efforts to dehumanize unborn babies with disabilities such as those with Down Syndrome are deeply unjust. Across Europe almost all babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted: nearly 100 percent in Iceland, 98 percent in Denmark and 90 percent in the United Kingdom. Countries must protect the rights of unborn children with disabilities, we have an obligation to act in accordance with basic human rights which extend to all people,” Price continued. 

Europe’s Top Human Rights Court condemns Russia for punishing a Christian pastor for hosting a prayer in his home

Don Ossewaarde
  • Don Ossewaarde was arrested, convicted, and fined over a prayer gathering at his home in Russia.
  • European Court of Human Rights reaffirms that “missionary work or evangelism…is protected under Article 9” of the European Convention on Human Rights.

STRASBOURG (15 March 2023) – Russia has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for violating the right to religious freedom and discriminating against a Christian pastor. In a judgment issued on 7 March 2023, the ECHR held that a 2016 punishment levied by Russian authorities for organizing a peaceful prayer gathering in the pastor’s house in Oryol, Russia was a clear breach of human rights.

In 2016, Donald Ossewaarde, an evangelical Christian pastor, was arrested, taken to the police station, sued, and convicted after he invited locals to his house for worship, singing, and bible study. He was fined 40,000 roubles (appr. 650 euros at the time). After the sentence was upheld by Russian courts, Ossewaarde appealed to the ECHR. ADF International supported Ossewaarde in bringing the case to the Court.

“Nobody should be discriminated against or persecuted for sharing their faith, regardless of their religion or denomination. The European Court of Human Rights has yet again affirmed that evangelization and mission work is a key, and robustly protected, element of the freedom of religion under the European Convention on Human Rights,” stated Dr. Felix Böllmann, Director of Advocacy Europe at ADF International, a human rights group that defends religious freedom worldwide.  

Convicted for inviting people to prayer gatherings

Since 2005, Ossewarde, originally from Michigan, had been living with his wife in Oryol, less than 200 km from the Ukrainian border. They regularly organized prayer gatherings and communal Bible reading. On 14 August 2016, three police officers entered their home. The door was open to give anyone access who wanted to join the Sunday worship. After the service, the officers questioned the attendees. Then they ordered Ossewaarde to come to the police station for fingerprinting.

The police took Ossewaarde directly from the police station to the Zhelezhnodorozhnyy District Court in Oryol where he was convicted for carrying out missionary work.

Anti-terrorism law used to criminalize sharing one’s faith

In July 2016, Russia introduced a new anti-terrorism law, which criminalized “missionary work” by individuals in many instances. This served as the legal basis for the conviction of Ossewaarde. The law furthermore provides for higher penalties if the accused person is not a Russian citizen.

“I was unjustly punished for exercising my basic human right to speak about my faith and pray with others. My wife and I invited people into our home to sing hymns, read the Bible, and pray together. Millions of people around the world are free to do this without interference, but I was treated like a criminal and convicted under a Russian law directed at terrorists,” Don Ossewaarde recalls.

The right to religious freedom protects missionary work

In its judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the penalty for missionary work constitutes a violation of the right to religious freedom. The Court confirmed that the “freedom to manifest one’s religion includes … the right to express one’s religious views”. Furthermore, missionary work or evangelism “is protected under Article 9 alongside with other acts of worship”. 

According to the Court, sharing one’s faith is a “vital dimension of a religion” and as such worthy of highest legal protection. The Court also dismissed the distinct penalties for foreign citizens, in contrast to those for Russian citizens, as “discriminatory”. As such they manifest a violation of Article 14—the right not to be discriminated against.

Russia should serve as a warning

“I am encouraged that the Court has clearly affirmed the individual right of religious freedom, and the key importance of protecting group worship and evangelism efforts. Nobody should be criminalized for praying, or for inviting others to partake in peaceful religious gatherings. Criminalization of religion leads to tyranny. We hope and pray that the international community will pay attention to the erosion of religious freedom in Russia, and that this Court decision will prompt other countries to affirm and robustly protect the religious freedom of their people,” Don Ossewarde said.

“We enthusiastically welcome the Court’s judgment, as it makes clear that religious freedom extends to people of all faiths and beliefs who are fully entitled to speak about their convictions and invite others to join in as well. We strongly call on Russia to respect the international human rights framework in accordance with this ruling,” concluded Böllmann


Images for free use in print or online in relation to this story only