Justyna Wydrzynska sentenced to community service after telling court she sent pills to victim of domestic violence
A court in Poland has convicted an activist for helping a pregnant woman access abortion pills, sentencing her to eight months of community service in a landmark case over abortion rights in the predominantly Catholic country.
“I do not feel that I am facing the court alone,” said Justyna Wydrzynska at the hearing on Tuesday. “Behind me are my friends and hundreds of women I have not had the luck to meet yet.”
Along with Malta, Poland’s anti-abortion laws are among the most restrictive in Europe, allowing for termination only in the event of incest, rape or a risk to the mother’s health. Helping a woman obtain an abortion is also illegal.
JustynaWydrzynska, a member of Abortion Dream Team (ADT), an activist group helping Poles access drugs to facilitate terminations abroad, had faced up to three years in prison.
She told the court in Warsaw that she had sent pills to a woman who was a victim of domestic violence, according to the Facebook page of ADT.
The woman had called an abortion line asking for help with terminating her pregnancy. Activists referred Wydrzynska to the case, after which she mailed drugs she already had at home to her.
“The pills which I had for my personal use and which I had sent to Ania are the safest way to terminate a pregnancy in Poland at the moment,” the pressure group quoted Wydrzynska as saying.
“I didn’t want Ania to risk her life by taking dangerous steps since a solution is so easy and medically safe.”
While abortion was freely available in Poland under the communist regime, the procedure became heavily restricted in 1993. Further restrictions were introduced in January 2021, making the procedure legal only in cases of a crime, such as rape or incest, or when the pregnancy risks the woman’s life or health.
However, the law criminalises only abortion-providers, meaning that self-managed abortions – a popular method of terminating pregnancies – are not criminalised. ADT helped more than 9,000 people in Poland access medical abortion in 2022.
ADT activists are careful to work within the limits of Polish law. They give advice on how to order abortion tablets from countries such as the Netherlands, where the medication can be legally purchased. ADT activists do not handle any packages themselves.
Ania’s case was an exception, Wydrzyńska said. The woman told her that she was pregnant and facing domestic violence. Her husband had prevented her from travelling to Germany to access an abortion. Her pregnancy was advancing and due to the early days of the Covid pandemic she did not know if she would be able to obtain tablets from abroad.
“I knew that Ania was in an extremely desperate situation, and I had a set of pills for my own personal use,” Wydrzyńska said in court. “I do not feel guilty. Hearing the details of Ania’s situation in this courtroom has only strengthened my conviction that I made the right choice.”
The package with the medication was found by Ania’s husband who notified the police. Days later Ania miscarried.
Wydrzyńska said she would appeal against the sentence.
”We are strong, and together we are even stronger,” ADT wrote in a public statement. “We will never stop supporting each other and we won’t stop helping with abortions.”
Margolis, from Human Rights Watch, said: “This alarming and appalling ruling demands action from the European Union to stop Poland’s cruel and concerted targeting of reproductive rights and their defenders … Poland’s government has shown that it will go to dangerous lengths in its attack on women’s rights.”
Keina Yoshida, a senior legal adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement: “Her prosecution sets a dangerous precedent for the targeting of human rights defenders in Poland who are working to advance reproductive rights and challenge Poland’s de facto ban on abortion.”
Agnès Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said: “Today’s conviction marks a depressing low in the repression of reproductive rights in Poland, a rollback for which women and girls – and those who defend their rights – are paying a high price.”
She added: “Justyna should have never been put on trial in the first place because what she did should never be a crime.
“By supporting a woman who asked for help, Justyna showed compassion. By defending the right to safe abortion in Poland, Justyna showed courage. Today’s craven judgment shows neither. The conviction must be overturned.”
Source: The Guardian