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Access to abortions needed for Ukrainian refugees in Poland - UNHCR

FILE PHOTO: People take part in an anti-Russian demonstration outside the Russian embassy, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Warsaw, Poland, April 13, 2022. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

Women who have fled to Poland to escape war must have access to reproductive rights that meet international standards, including abortions, a top UNHCR official said on Friday, amid reports of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine.

Poland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, and human rights activists have raised concerns about the difficulties victims of rape from Ukraine fleeing to the country may face if they need to terminate a pregnancy.

"There are particular policies (regarding reproductive services in Poland) that we believe do not meet international standards," assistant high commissioner for protection Gillian Triggs told a news briefing.

"(Victims of sexual violence) need counselling and they need assistance. In some cases they will need abortions. We will raise this ... with the government," she said.

She said that the UNHCR would work with those who needed an abortion to make sure that they got them in Poland or elsewhere.

A Polish government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United Nations has said that U.N. human rights monitors were seeking to verify allegations of sexual violence by Russian forces, including gang rape and rapes in front of children, and claims Ukrainian forces and civil defence militias had also committed sexual violence.

Russia has denied carrying out abuses in what it calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine. Ukraine's U.N. mission did not immediately respond at the time to a request for comment on allegations against Ukraine forces.

Abortion has become a highly divisive issue in Poland since nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, promising a return to a traditional, pious society mixed with generous state handouts.

The Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2020 that terminating pregnancies with foetal defects was unconstitutional, eliminating the most frequently used case for legal abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.

Terminations are now permitted only in cases of rape and incest, and when the mother's life or health is endangered, but access to abortion is restricted as many doctors refuse to perform them on religious grounds and many women seek abortions abroad.

The number of refugees who came to Poland since the beginning of Russian invasion has passed 3.3 million.

(Reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Alan Charlish and Alison Williams)

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Dive Deeper:
Consett fundraisers traveling to Poland refugee camp to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion
Seven volunteers who met while collecting donations for Ukraine are getting ready to see how aid is helping displaced families
Live: EU ramps up military aid to Ukraine as diplomatic efforts intensify
The EU pledged an additional €500 million in military aid to Ukraine at a meeting of G7 nations on Friday…
UN: Ukraine war is `child rights crisis' with school attacks
The U.N. children's agency says the war in Ukraine is a “child rights crisis” where education is under attack, nearly…
‘Declare it to a doctor, and it’s over’: Ukrainian women face harsh reality of Poland’s abortion laws
Women turn to aid groups for help, with many unaware their rights to reproductive healthcare have vanished upon crossing the…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
First Russian soldier to go on trial in Ukraine for war crimes
As Nato expansion ratchets up the pressure on Vladimir Putin, Vadim Shysimarin, 21, is charged with murdering a 62-year-old civilian
Number of refugees fleeing Ukraine war exceeds 6 million-UN agency
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Get all your news in one place