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Poland ordered to compensate woman denied abortion

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Poland was ordered on Tuesday to pay a woman 39,000 euros (26,000 pounds) after she was prevented from having an abortion despite doctors’ warnings that she could lose her sight if she gave birth.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Alicja Tysiac, 36, whose eyesight worsened after the baby girl was born and who is now registered as disabled, had been denied her human rights under Poland’s strict anti-abortion laws.

The court ordered Poland to pay her 25,000 euros in compensation and 14,000 euros in costs.

“It’s one of the most important judgments the court has come down with regarding women’s reproductive rights in the past decade at least,” said Christina Zampas, senior legal adviser for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based advocacy group.

“There are thousands of women in Poland who are denied access to abortion who are legally entitled to it,” she said.

Tysiac, who is bringing up three children alone, suffers from an eye disease and cannot see objects more than 1.50 metres (five feet) away. She receives a monthly disability pension equivalent to 140 euros.

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Tysiac became pregnant in 2000. Three doctors told her she could go blind if she gave birth to her third child, but refused to write her a certificate that would authorise an abortion.

Poland, strongly Roman Catholic, has some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe.

It allows a pregnancy to be interrupted only when it threatens the life or health of the mother, when the baby is likely to be permanently handicapped or when it originates from a crime such as rape or incest.

A general practitioner later granted Tysiac an abortion certificate but it was ruled invalid because it was not delivered by a specialist.

The court criticised the fact that Polish law does not contain “any special procedure for handling and resolving cases where there is disagreement over the suitability of a therapeutic abortion, either between a mother and doctors or between doctors themselves”.