Justyna Wydrzyńska, a Polish women's rights activist, is among the few known people in Europe to ever be charged with "aiding abortion" after providing a pregnant woman with abortion pills. The activist is facing up to 3 years in prison.
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"I have no regrets. This woman was in a desperate situation. It's very difficult to say ‘no’ to a person who comes to you asking for help, when you know you can help her, because you have the knowledge, the tools, the experience, the imagination and the memory of what it's like to be in a similar situation", Justyna Wydrzyńska, associated with the Abortion Without Borders initiative, said just before her first court hearing on April 8.

The 48-year-old woman is among the very few people in Europe (and possibly the first ever activist)* to have been accused of aiding and abetting abortion after providing another person with abortion pills. In 2020, she was contacted by Anna - a woman who was 12 weeks pregnant. Anna wanted to go to Germany to terminate the pregnancy, but couldn't do it - she had a small child, and her husband threatened her that if she left with their three-year-old child, he would report parental kidnapping. Justyna helped the woman, and the case was later reported by her husband. 

Ms. Wydrzyńska was charged with the crime of aiding and aborting a pregnancy by handing over at least 10 pills containing misoprostol, and marketing a medicinal product without the necessary authorization.  

„I wanted her to have a choice"

Justyna testified for the first time on April 8. "I know how important it is to believe that you can decide for yourself. This is very difficult when you’re stuck in an abusive relationship. For me, my abortion was just the beginning of a fight for myself and the safety of my children. It took me three years to walk away from my abusive husband. By providing her with pills, I wanted her to be able to make a decision about herself and her life. My intention was not that she should terminate her pregnancy, but that she should be able to choose for herself, that by holding the pills in her hands she should be able to decide about her life"- she said in court.

In the end, the pregnancy was not aborted; the pills were seized by the police. Anna, who asked Justyna for help, later had a miscarriage.

The court did not issue a verdict in April but allowed the catholic-fundamentalist organization Ordo Iuris to participate in the trial- the organization indicated in its motion that it wanted to represent the interest of the victim of the crime, the 12-week-old unborn fetus that died as a result of the miscarriage.

Justyna Wydrzyńska's next hearing was scheduled to take place this Thursday, July 14, but the Warsaw court decided to adjourn it until October.

Thousands of women from all over the world declared their support for Ms. Wydrzyńska. More than 110,000 people signed Amnesty International’s Urgent Action petition addressed to the Polish Minister of Justice, and a group of MEPs also sent their letter of support. The governments of Belgium and France, organizations such as Catholics for Choice, as well as the United Nations special mandate holders also voiced their support for the prosecuted activist, calling on the Polish government to drop the charges.

FIGO, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, which brings together 130 obstetrics and gynecology associations from all around the world, also stood up for Justyna.

Polish government: „a zygote is a human being"

The Polish Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, and the Ministry of Justice have responded to the letter sent by the UN.

Because abortion in Poland is permitted in cases of danger to the life of the pregnant person and in cases of rape, it cannot be claimed "that abortion is not legal in Poland" – the Ministry of Health explains.

The Ministry of Family and Social Policy, meanwhile, argues that Poland does not discriminate against women and their rights and freedoms, as it complies with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its articles, which state, among other things, that "States shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life, including the right to participate in non-governmental organizations and associations related to the public and political life of the country".

With its firm stance on abortion, the Ministry of Justice argued that the UN Rapporteur's remarks are "groundless, misguided and lacking in substance from the point of view of the Polish legal system".

Further, Zbigniew Ziobro’s ministry replied with a mini-lecture on biology, explaining to the UN that "the question of the beginning of human life is not controversial. Every human life begins when a sperm combines with an egg cell to form a zygote as a new biological system. As a result of the fertilization process, a fully genetically formed new human being is created, the development of which takes place throughout human life. Thus, an embryo, fetus or a newborn are terms describing the various stages of human life development" - writes the Ministry of Justice, adding that: "there is no doubt that human life should not be valued based on age, health status, life expectancy or any other criteria".

*** 

EDIT (15.07.2022): An earlier version of the article wrongly stated that Ms. Wydrzyńska "is the first person in Europe to be accused of aiding and abetting abortion after providing another person with abortion pills". It was brought to the editor's attention that similar cases have already taken place in other European countries (such as Northern Ireland or Malta) before. Ms. Wydrzyńska, however, is possibly the first activist to be accussed in this context.

***

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