Polish abortion: activist found guilty of providing abortion pills

A Polish woman was sentenced to eight months of community service for illegally assisting another woman in obtaining an abortion. Justyna Wydrzynska is believed to be the first activist prosecuted for assisting a pregnant woman in Poland, where abortion is almost entirely illegal. 

In Poland, providing assistance is punishable by up to three years in prison. The woman to whom Ms. Wydrzynska sent the abortion pills did not have an abortion. UN officials, gynecologists, and human rights organizations all requested that the case be dismissed.

Ms. Wydrzynska, who will appeal the verdict, told the court that she sent the pregnant woman abortion pills when she discovered she was in an abusive relationship. The woman, who is referred to as Ania, that is not her real name, had planned to travel to a clinic in Germany to terminate her pregnancy, but was unable to do so due to the imposition of a Covid-19 lockdown. Hence, she sought assistance online.

Ms. Wydrzynska, a member of Abortion Dream Team, stated that she decided to send Ania the abortion pills in order to give her a choice. She herself had been abused by the father of her children and had concealed her own abortion. When Ania's boyfriend discovered the pills, he seized them and reported the activist to the police.

According to the reports, she had a miscarriage and never gave birth. Ms. Wydrzynska told the court that she was innocent and that the state had failed her, Ania, and other women, as reported by the Polish sources, "I was driven by the desire to help when no one else would or could." Protesters gathered outside the court in Warsaw with Jak Justyna (I am Justyna) banners, and Amnesty International condemned the sentence as "depressingly low levels of reproductive rights repression in Poland."

Since 2020, Poland has only permitted abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the mother's health. In the European Union, only Malta has stricter abortion laws, and this decision sparked widespread protests in Poland. Activists and women's rights organizations assert that the 2020 court decision has caused doctors to fear repercussions even when there are legal grounds for an abortion.

In 2021, when a pregnant woman died in a Polish hospital, her family stated that the laws prevented doctors from intervening and that the government needed to revise its policies. Izabela, age 30, died of septic shock while doctors allegedly waited for her unborn child to perish. Although Ms. Wydrzynska's attorney had requested an acquittal, the prosecutor had requested a longer term of community service.

Ordo Iuris, an ultra-orthodox Catholic legal group that participated in the trial, stated that she should receive a suspended sentence. It is believed that this is the first time in Poland that an activist, as opposed to a family member or doctor, has been tried for assisting a woman in obtaining an abortion. The international federation of gynecology and obstetrics (Figo) wrote to public prosecutor general Zbigniew Ziobro last year urging him to drop the charges against Ms. Wydrzynska and other activists decriminalize abortion access in its entirety.