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 closing speech in court follows:
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.
The pills which I had for my own use, which I sent to Ania, are now the safest way to terminate a pregnancy in Poland. They are widely used in Europe and across the entire world by millions of people. They do not require anaesthesia, pose no complication risks, are safer than simple medical procedures. I know that from the reports of World Health Organization, which recommends unrestricted access to these pills, mifepristone and misoprostol. There are no contraindications against this.
I sent my pills to Ania because I knew that she was in an abusive relationship - just like me a few years earlier. We were both controlled, emotionally blackmailed, lonely. We both have children and we wanted to protect them.
I also experienced violence in a relationship. I was controlled, subjected to financial, physical and emotional abuse which were ubiquitous in “my” home.
Us women, who experienced domestic violence, know what must be sacrificed to protect the safety of our children above all. I have three kids. Mothers in abusive relationships will do whatever they can for their children to sleep peacefully, for themselves to escape the constant, destructive tension.Us, who survive violence, keep our experiences a secret. We are ashamed of our lack of courage to fight for freedom, of allowing someone to control us. Often we stay - by choice and out of necessity.
These obvious facts are tightly linked with the need to control one’s own reproductive autonomy. Living in abuse we often don’t realise that we have lost control over our bodies and the remainder of our lives. Because someone in our home decides for us, often against our will. I got pregnant by a man who hurt me, an abuser, and I terminated this pregnancy because I did not want it. My abortion made me realise I can control my own life, and I can regain that control. I felt that I can make my own decisions, and the fear I felt was not just for my body, but also for freedom which is a superior human right.
I got divorced in 2009, after 11 years of marriage. I did it to save myself and my children. But the memories of abuse I went through are still present within me. This is not something you can just forget. And I do not wish this experience upon anyone.
My own abortion was a breakthrough for me. I wouldn’t want to live in a world in which any woman is deprived of access to reliable information and simple human support. This has been motivating me in my activism, in my social work. For me this trial is symbolically a trial for anyone who ever provided support to a person in need.
I feel I do not stand here alone. My friends have my back, but so do hundreds of women whom I haven’t yet had the chance to meet.
Here, in this courtroom, we touch upon basic human rights, such as the right to self-determination. I have the support of numerous human rights organizations with their vast knowledge on these issues: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Their opinion is clear: I am a human rights defender. And they are not alone in saying this. Catholics for Choice, Belgian Parliament, more than 80 members of the European parliament, high ranking rapporteurs on women’s rights have all approached the Polish parliament stating that I should not be prosecuted. I should never be oppressed for my work protecting women’s life and health. Similarly, the International Foundation of Gynecology and Obstetrics demands my exoneration and stresses that my work is not only safe, but also endorsed by the World Health Organization.
Your honor knows about this, because numerous organisations filed amicus curiae letters in my case. These are not just expert opinions, but also the voices of hundreds of thousands of people who signed a petition to the prosecutor’s office. They all say the same. This trial should never have happened. I am thankful for this support.
Yet I am here, Your Honor, sitting in the dock. And this last year has been very difficult for me, my family, for those close to me. I feel I am innocent. What I heard here in this room, the details of Anna’s situation, only convinced me that my actions were right. It made me realize that I should trust my intuition and take the risk of helping those who need it. I would never wish for any woman to be alone in these tough situations, without support, with her family acting against her. I believe that helping another person who asks for support as they fight for their freedom is our duty. It is what makes us human. And I will not abandon it, I will not be ashamed of it or believe that it is a crime.
Your honor, we live in a country which doesn’t respect women. The polish anti-abortion law from 1993 was one of the most restrictive in Europe, because it forced people in unwanted pregnancies to have their abortions in secret.
For them, activist organizations were the only respite from dangerous methods or peddlers. Initiatives like Abortion Without Borders are doing work which should have been the state’s job for years as part of the healthcare system. I’ve been working in this field for 16 years and witness how the state’s decisions and rulings worsen women’s situation.
The anti-abortion law is not only cruel; it is fictitious. The law doesn’t stop people with unwanted pregnancies from terminating them. This is not my opinion - that’s what all abortion research shows, around the world.
A woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant thinks pragmatically; how to access abortion, how much it will cost, can she afford it. And she will have that abortion, regardless of the law and regardless of how safe the method she uses will be. I thought this way, so did Anna, so do 100 000 women in Poland every year, so do Ukrainian refugees. And they are right.
After October 22nd, 2020, when the pseudo-tribunal ruled in favor of further restricting abortion access, women whose pregnancies have fetal abnormalities started to go to Netherlands for help. There, it is possible to terminate until the 22nd week of pregnancy. Women with diagnosed fetal abnormalities ask: “do I have to go to a foreign country, feel like a fugitive, why can’t I do it in a hospital here, and then go home as soon as possible?”. Doctors in Dutch clinics simply say: “Polish women are the largest group of foreign patients in our clinics. They have special needs, they are often scarred by their experience with polish hospitals. We need to calm them down and reassure them that they will receive help”. The medical condition of women travelling to Dutch clinics worsens constantly since 2020.
There are very many people who need an abortion here and now, who are in danger, not just from the cruel law, medical negligence, cowardice of doctors, but also from being in abusive relationships, under constant supervision.
Being free from an unwanted pregnancy allows them to be free from abuse in general.
That’s what it was for me, it was a factor in realising how I am being confined, how much I need freedom and the ability to decide for myself. I wanted the same for Anna. I wanted her to be free and control her life and body.
I didn’t want her to risk her life when the solution was so simple and medically safe
I do not want anyone to go alone through a dangerous process of an unsafe abortion when it is possible to do it safely, without stigma. I don’t want any of us to be forced to abandon her right to freedom and self-determination.
I was driven by the will to help when no one else wanted to or could help. For me, helping Ania was an obvious, decent and honest thing to do. It’s good to be honest, even if it doesn’t always pay off.
If I knew more about Ania’s situation, I wouldn’t just have sent her the pills. I would have stayed in touch to support her during the abortion, so she wouldn’t feel alone. So she would have someone who would listen, stay with her, hold her hands.
We are here to decide on my guilt. I am not guilty and I will say it out loud: the State is guilty, of abandoning Ania, Iza from Pszczyna, Agnieszka from Częstochowa, and millions of women across the country.
I ask the court for acquittal.
Originally published by the Abortion Dream Team here.