Today, the District Court in Warsaw found Justyna Wydrzyńska guilty for helping a woman in an abusive relationship to access abortion pills. She was sentenced to eight months of community service for 30 hours/month and will now have a criminal record.
"We are deeply saddened by the decision and outraged by the entire process. Condemning a person for an act of empathy and compassion towards another human being is unconceivable. We are in awe of Justyna’s bravery in the face of 18 months of judicial persecution by an apparatus targeting anyone who dares challenge the state’s immoral attacks on healthcare and human rights", said Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network (IPPF EN).
Justyna was already doing community service by stepping in where the State has been failing and providing safe abortion care, said Donadio regarding the sentence.
Under Polish law, women and pregnant people who have abortions are not criminalised, but those who directly help them, beyond providing information, are. The government and ultra-conservative right-wing groups want harsher punishments for women who stand in solidarity with those needing abortion care. They also target family members, partners and friends who try to help women access abortion care.
Research conducted in February 2023 by SW Research on behalf of Amnesty International shows that 47.2% of Poles intend to help each other in accessing abortion care. Among young people, willingness to help with abortion for those experiencing domestic violence rises to 65.6%. The vast majority of respondents oppose punishment for financially assisting abortion care (60.8%) or assisting people travel abroad for the procedure (61.2%).
It is clear that the ultra-conservative ruling party is instrumentalising the justice system to retaliate against those who oppose them and who stand for women’s rights. They used Justyna’s case to set an example and intimidate other activists or whoever decides to help a loved one.
"But we will not give in. Justyna, and those like her, will continue to have unwavering support as they fight for sexual and reproductive rights", continued Donadio.
IPPF EN expects the European Union to drastically scale up its actions to ensure the strengthening of the rule of law in Poland and the protection of human rights defenders. This is a case of institutional and state violence. It cannot be allowed to happen again.
Women human rights defenders are vital to a healthy democracy. Any oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by governments – including intimidation, smear campaigns, detention and criminal charges – must not be tolerated.
About Justyna Wydrzyńska’s case
Justyna Wydrzyńska was charged with supporting Ania, a woman in an abusive relationship, to access abortion pills. A survivor herself of a similar situation to Ania, she took compassionate action to help the woman. Justyna’s efforts were reported to the police by Ania’s controlling husband.
Ania was denied abortion care, but the stress caused her to miscarry. Justyna, a member of Abortion Without Borders and the Abortion Dream Team has been facing a legal battle for more than one year for facilitating an abortion that didn’t happen. Her case marks the first in Europe in which a woman human rights defender (WHRD) is being prosecuted for helping ensure abortion care by providing abortion pills.
Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, only permitting abortion when the life or health of the pregnant woman is endangered or in the case of rape or incest. On 22 October 2020, the Polish Court went further and ruled that abortions could no longer happen in cases of foetal illness or abnormality. With this ban on abortion care, the Polish state is failing its human rights obligations, and is causing women to die. Not only is the State failing, it's also actively attacking those who try to remedy this and save women’s lives, like Justyna.
Justyna has received a lot of support from foreign media outlets and international institutions, including the European Parliament. The UN has also condemned the Polish government’s actions, as well as the legislative barriers to accessing abortion.
For EU media enquiries, please contact Irene Donadio, +32-491-071-93-90 or [email protected]
Justyna's closing speech:
I stand here today because I gave someone my abortion pills. I sent them to another woman. It is an undeniable fact. I’m facing 3 years in prison.
I didn’t do it out of my own initiative, because I do not distribute abortion pills. I knew that at that time, Ania was desperate. And I had a set of pills for my own use.