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Activist faces prison for aiding an abortion in Poland

Justyna Wydrzyńska faces three years in prison for helping a domestic abuse survivor

In 2020, Justyna Wydrzyńska, a pro-choice activist and member of the Polish abortion rights group Abortion Dream Team (ADT), was contacted by a woman in urgent need of an abortion.

Ania* was 12 weeks pregnant and stuck in an abusive relationship. Following the restrictions on abortion in 2021, Poland is now one of two countries in the European Union where abortion is almost entirely banned. Due to these restrictions, those who need an abortion are forced to travel outside of the country to get one. Ania tried desperately to travel to Germany to obtain an abortion, but her husband threatened to report her for kidnapping if she left the country with their three-year-old child. Left with few options during the pandemic, Ania contacted Wydrzyńska for help.

Under Polish law, aiding and abetting an abortion is illegal if not performed by a doctor under specific circumstances. To avoid accusations of directly providing abortions, ADT operates carefully under Polish law, helping women obtain abortions abroad. But this was not an option for Ania, so without a second thought, Wydrzyńska sent Ania her own abortion pills. A year later, the police raided Wydrzyńska's home after receiving information from Ania’s husband about her involvement in her self-managed abortion. The police found mifepristone and misoprostol, two medicines used to induce abortion, in Wydrzyńska’s home. The prosecutors argued that the medications do not have authorisation in Poland and Wydrzyńska now faces up to three years in prison. Wydrzyńska’s trial started last year on April 8 and started up again this week on January 11.

“I could be treated like most other people in this situation and be given a suspended six-month sentence,” Wydrzyńska told the Guardian in 2022. “Or they might want to make an example out of me and send me to jail, maybe even for years.” The charges against Wydrzyńska come as no surprise to those in ADT. The group told Amnesty International last year that their activities have been “on the radar of the Polish authorities for the past few years”. Wydrzyńska’s activism is also well-known in Poland: more than 15 years ago, she created the country’s first-ever chat room where people could share information about where they could safely access abortions.

This is the first European case of an activist being charged with providing abortion pills. However, the criminalisation of women having abortions or aiding others in having one is not uncommon. Since the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US, more and more stories of women being prosecuted for having abortions have come to light. But even before abortion became illegal, the prosecution of women suspected of purposefully or accidentally ending a pregnancy was on the rise. According to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, 1,300 women have been arrested or charged in the US from 2006 to 2020 for their actions during pregnancy. In the UK, dozens of investigations have been launched by the police in the past ten years against women accused of illegal abortions. So, while the criminalisation of abortion has always been about controlling the bodies of those who can get pregnant, it’s also about expanding the carceral state. All women (and those with the ability to get pregnant) are being added to what writer Cheryal Rivera calls “the criminal class”.

So how can we support Wydrzyńska as her trial continues on February 6 and through into March? Amnesty International has created a petition demanding that the charges brought up against Wydrzyńska be dropped, and ADT is asking the public to sign and share it with as many people as possible. Additionally, ADT is asking the public to donate to their abortion fund. The only way they can continue to provide abortions to those who need them is with financial support.

Dani Anderson, Fundraising and Communications Manager for the Abortion Support Network, told Dazed that these attacks on abortion providers will not stop them from helping those in need. “Justyna is being prosecuted for what many of us do every day: helping someone make their own choice on abortion. The case is an attempt to intimidate activists in Poland, but Justyna will never be alone in this fight.”

She continues: “The groups in Abortion Without Borders (which the ADT is a part of) have helped about 100,000 people access safe abortions since the [Poland’s] Constitutional Tribunal ruling in 2020, and we will continue to do so for as long as we are needed.”

*Real name has been changed

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