Justyna Wydrzynska: A Polish activist tried for giving a woman abortion pills

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A Polish activist accused of illegally giving abortion pills to a woman appeared in a Warsaw court on Thursday in a one-of-a-kind case that could be a harbinger of what is to come in the United States without Roe vs. Wade.

Justyna Wydrzynska, a Polish human rights activist who co-founded Abortion Dream Team, which provides people with information on how to safely terminate their pregnancy, is facing three years in prison for helping a woman who sought to abort.

She is accused of giving abortion pills in 2020 to a woman identified as Ania, whose husband was allegedly violent.

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At a brief hearing on Thursday, she answered questions about her organization before proceedings were adjourned for a second time after Ania’s husband failed to appear in court. The courtroom was packed with observers, including representatives from the embassies of Canada, Norway and the United States.

Abortion rights in Europe and elsewhere have come under greater scrutiny since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last month. While the Biden administration has declared that abortion pills are authorized as safe and effective for use in all 50 states, providing them to people in states where abortion is now illegal is a gray area.

Addressing reporters and supporters outside the court, Wydrzynska smiled and blew kisses. Such cases are becoming a “real possibility” in the United States, she said. “People will always find ways to help others, and medical abortion is available in the United States, so it can absolutely happen there too.”

“I’m angry,” she said after the hearing, calling it a waste of time. In remarks to reporters to Ania’s husband, she said: “You were so brave when you called the police. Be brave now too and show up in court.

She added: “Once I leave court, I will turn on my phone and continue to take calls from people in need, advising them how and where to get an abortion.

Poland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, in fact a near total ban. In 2020, a court banned abortions for fetal abnormalities – one of the few remaining exceptions under which abortion was permitted. It remains legal to terminate a pregnancy resulting from rape or for which there is a risk to the life or health of the woman.

In practice, however, abortions in these circumstances are still difficult to obtain: rape victims must obtain a certificate from a prosecutor to access the procedure, and many doctors are afraid to provide care to pregnant women in obstetric emergency for fear of breaking the law. right.

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A 30-year-old pregnant woman, Izabela Sajbor, died of septic shock in a Polish hospital in September after medical staff refused to treat her until her fetus died, her lawyer said. At least one other woman has died in similar circumstances.

Activists in Poland and abroad have stepped in to fill the void by shipping abortion pills to Polish women from other countries in Europe or helping them travel to places with looser restrictions to get surgical abortions. The activist groups have coalesced into a transnational network called Abortion Without Borders – the Ania Coalition, the woman whose story is at the center of Wydrzynska’s trial, found online while seeking an abortion.

While it is legal for a pregnant woman to have an abortion in Poland – by taking pills, for example – it is forbidden to help someone else access an abortion. In Poland, activists have tried to act within the law and protect the people they help from harassment, including taking steps to cover their digital traces. The organization Women Help Women, part of the network, ships pills across Poland’s borders to avoid legal ramifications. In total, Abortion Without Borders has helped tens of thousands of Polish women to have abortions since the October 2020 court ruling.

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Ania wanted to have an abortion, but her husband’s threats prevented her from going to a clinic in Germany, according to a briefing on the case published by the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Wydrzynska spoke about her own story as a survivor of domestic violence.

When Ania contacted Abortion Without Borders in February 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, international mail had become less reliable, so Wydrzynska sent Ania a packet of abortion pills from home. Ania’s husband allegedly found the pills and called the police, who confiscated them. Ania said the stress of the police investigation led her to miscarry.

In June 2021, more than a year after Wydrzynska provided the pills, police raided Wydrzynska’s home and confiscated drugs, a computer, USB drives and cellphones belonging to her and her children. . A Warsaw prosecutor charged Wydrzynska in November with facilitating an abortion and possessing unauthorized drugs. Police had discovered mifepristone and misoprostol, common abortifacient drugs also used for other purposes, at Wydrzynska’s home, and the prosecutor argued that two of the confiscated drugs were not authorized for use in Poland.

The procedure is a test of both the country’s abortion law and the independence of its judiciary, campaigners say.

The charges against Wydrzynska have drawn international condemnation. Nearly 100 members of the European Parliament have signed a letter to the Polish government, calling for their withdrawal.

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision deer decision, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in early July urging EU member states – including Poland – to remove barriers to access to abortion. It also calls for the right to abortion to be enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The UN special rapporteurs, meanwhile, have expressed concern that the charges “seem designed to punish her work as a human rights defender and strike fear among all those who help Polish women access safe abortion care and who are already working in a hostile environment.

Polish authorities have responded by pointing to a pharmaceutical law prohibiting the unauthorized marketing of drugs, which they say includes “paid and unpaid transfer” of drugs.

Activists fear the lawsuit, the first against an abortion rights activist for breaking Polish law, will make their work even more difficult.

Wydrzynska’s case “is a stunning example of how the law does not work and how violently it criminalizes helping,” said Zuzanna Dziuban, an activist with an Abortion Without Borders affiliate that helps Polish women to visit clinics in Berlin. The Washington Post this spring.

Wydrzynska previously told the Post that the procedure did not deter her from activism.

“I haven’t stopped doing my job and I won’t stop doing it,” she said. “I’m not really scared, and I know my colleagues know how important our work is and how important it is that people deserve to have the right to be properly informed.”

Jeznach reported from Warsaw and Morris from Berlin.

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