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Abortion Care

IPPF works to ensure that every woman and girl has the human right to choose to be pregnant or not and we will continue to supply and support safe and legal abortion services and care. We are committed to reducing the number of deaths of women and girls who are forced to turn to unsafe abortion methods. Make Abortion Safe. Make Abortion Legal. For all Women and Girls. Everywhere.

Articles by Abortion Care

Poland
13 December 2022

Poland: Women's rights defenders fighting a broken justice

Women’s rights activist Justyna Wydrzyńska faces up to three years in prison after being charged with providing abortion pills to a woman who wanted them – the first case of its kind in Europe. In 2020, Wydrzyńska, a member of Polish activist group Abortion Dream Team, answered a request for abortion pills from a woman whom she said seemed to be in an abusive relationship and had decided not to go through a full pregnancy. But the abortion never took place – the pills were intercepted by the woman’s husband, who called the police. Wydrzyńska was arrested and charged with facilitating an abortion. Today, she hopes her case will shine a light on Poland’s strict abortion laws – and the way the judicial system is being used to persecute rights defenders who protest them. At least six women are reported to have died after being denied an abortion since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal imposed a near-total ban on abortion care just over two years ago. At the time, the ruling prompted massive demonstrations across the country. The initially peaceful protesters were met with excessive force from authorities, who used tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault to subdue them. These attacks were followed by arrests and charges for those defending women’s rights.  Today, the judicial persecution of rights defenders in Poland continues. Prosecutors with a political agenda have brought spurious charges against activists, and cases have been heard by judges loyal to the ruling Law and Justice party. We at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) have spoken to several activists in Poland as part of our Defend the Defenders campaign, which highlights their plight, fundraises for psychological support and legal assistance in court cases, and asks the European Union to take action to protect activists. Wydrzyńska is one such activist. Speaking to IPPF EN, she said: “Empathy shouldn’t be punished, especially when someone is asking you for help. I feel there is only one chance to show that the law is extremely harmful. Even if I get a jail sentence, I am ready. I think this battle is bigger than my freedom.” Under Polish law, people who have abortions are not criminalised, but those who directly help them are. The government and ultra-conservative right-wing groups want harsher punishments for abortion rights activists. They also target family members, partners and friends who try to help women access abortion care. Wydrzyńska says Poland’s Ministry of Justice has appointed a right-wing judge to her case, which has been adjourned twice after a witness failed to attend, with the next hearing scheduled for next month. It has been reported that at the trial, the judge will allow Ordo Iuris – a Polish fundamentalist organisation that campaigns against abortion rights and LGBTIQ rights in the country – to stand with the prosecution to represent the rights of the foetus.   Persecuting rights defenders Activist Marta Lempart was charged under Covid laws – along with two other women, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka-Fabin – for taking part in the 2020 anti-abortion protests. Each woman faces eight years in prison. Lempart said her case has already been tried once and dismissed by a judge due to a lack of evidence. Now, the prosecution is trying again. Lempart has 106 charges brought against her, including offences relating to breaking COVID regulations, blocking traffic, hanging posters, and littering in public. Most of these charges are pending due to a stand-off between Poland and the EU. Poland’s funding from the bloc has been frozen for over a year, amid concerns from the bloc over the judicial independence in the country. If the reforms demanded by the EU come to fruition, charges against activists like Lempart are likely to be dropped – but in the meantime, the toll on activists’ mental health and finances is severe. Speaking to the IPPF EN, Lempart said: “We can’t count on courts to be fair for long as the crackdown of the independent judiciary in Poland is happening at the maximum speed. The judges' removals from the cases and replacements, based on political decisions of the ruling party are a daily occurrence. “The government now aims for full power to decide which judge gets which case, taking overhead positions in all possible courts. Legal fees and misdemeanour fines are also hefty – if prosecutors can’t put people in jail, they want to cripple them financially.” To make matters worse, the political atmosphere created and fostered by the ruling Law and Justice party means many people feel it is acceptable to intimidate rights defenders in other ways. Some activists have been sent death threats and bomb threats by neo-nazi groups, and Lempart was assigned police protection after an escalating threat was made against her life. And alongside her numerous charges, Lempart has also had a libel case filed against her by the ultra-conservative organisation, Ordo Iuris.   Glimmers of hope It is not just activists under attack – journalists, politicians, independent judges and ordinary citizens in Poland also suffer from politicised assaults. In one case, lawmaker Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus faces two charges for participating in a 2020 protest, in which she held up a banner supporting abortion in a church. The prosecutor’s office in the city of Toruń charged Scheuring-Wielgus with ‘offending religious feelings’ and ‘malicious interference with religious worship’, according to Human Rights Watch. The hearing will take place in January, with each offence – for which she has pleaded not guilty – carrying a penalty of up to two years in prison. In another worrying development, Polish freedom fighters seem to have lost an ally due to recent changes in the Ombudsman’s Office, the supposedly neutral body appointed to investigate complaints made against public officials. The ombudsman, Marcin Wiącek, has dismissed his deputy, Hanna Machińska, who was known for protecting the rights of refugees on the Polish-Belarusian border and for intervening on behalf of protesters detained during pro-abortion and pro-LGBTIQ rights’ protests. Machińska will be replaced with Wojciech Brzozowski, a specialist in religious law. Meanwhile, the EU waits for Poland to meet the milestones its commission set for releasing the Cohesion and Covid Recovery Funds, now frozen due to severe breaches of the rule of law and fundamental rights. But MEPs have expressed concern that the commission’s criteria was not enough – and urged the EU council not to release the funds until Poland has fully complied with EU law. Lempart agrees, believing the EU’s approach emboldens the Law and Justice party. She explained: “The milestones are not in compliance with the EU Court of Justice rulings, so the EU is breaking its own laws. “It sends a clear message that they don’t care about the rule of law in Poland, and there is now an attempt to fast-track cases against protesters before these new changes are implemented.” We must ask ourselves – is this the Europe we want to live in, where rights are negotiable, where women are forced through pregnancy, and rights defenders are dragged to court by fundamentalist governments?  But hope remains, and with Polish parliamentary elections coming up next year, people have a chance to push for positive change. Support for liberalising abortion laws has risen from 37% in 2016 to 70% in 2022, while support for same-sex marriage has risen from 18% to 52% over the same time period.  “Moderate conservatism has been hijacked but the Law and Justice party is destroying itself,” said Lempart. “People saw the violence we faced. There has been a huge wave of support from people who don’t want to be part of the anti-women and anti-LGBT+ campaigns. They are too dogmatic, there must be a middle ground. People are moving more towards love and not hate.”   Originally published in Open Democracy. Credit photo: Spacerowiczka

Justyna
07 December 2022

Justyna: ‘I may be sitting alone but I am not alone’

‘They want to leave women alone with their ‘problem,’ says Polish women’s rights defender, Justyna of the ruling ultra-conservative party in Poland.  Justyna, a mother of three, works in an increasingly hostile environment, one in which women’s sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) are being completely dismantled. 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. The only way for women who need a safe abortion is to rely on NGOs and women’s rights defenders, like Justyna, who enable self-administrated abortions; a safe and easy way avoid being forced through a pregnancy.

defend the defenders
25 October 2022

Polish prosecutors indict women’s human rights defenders and plan to go ahead with another sham trial

Three leading women’s rights defenders are facing eight years in prison in Poland for exercising their right to peaceful protest.  Prosecutors in Warsaw filed the indictment against Marta Lempart, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka-Fabin of the Polish Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK), a partner of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network, for allegedly organizing protests during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Massive protests were prompted back in October 2020 by the decision of the illegally appointed Constitutional Tribunal to impose a near-total ban on abortion care. Peaceful protesters were met with excessive force, with authorities using tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. Now, two years on, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are still being attacked by Polish authorities, with defenders facing violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, including bomb threats, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media, detention and excessive criminal charges orchestrated and encouraged by the government. In the case of the Polish Women’s Strike’s members, these charges include “causing an epidemiological threat”, endangering public health and publicly praising crimes.  The new indictment against the women’s rights defenders came just days before the second anniversary of the near-total ban on abortion, which has killed six women so far. It also comes in the same month that a court hearing was held in the trial of Justyna Wydrzyńska.  Justyna, a member of Abortion Without Borders and the Abortion Dream Team, is facing up to three years in prison for facilitating an abortion that didn’t happen. Her case marks the first in Europe where a WHRD is being prosecuted for helping ensure abortion care by providing abortion pills. Justyna’s trial is ongoing. Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network, said:

abortion care IPPF EN
28 September 2022

San Marino legalizes abortion care overturning a century-old law: interview with women’s rights advocate

San Marino recently legalised abortion care, one year after the landmark referendum. In 2021, 77% of citizens voted overwhelmingly to overturn the 150-year-old law to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is also available after the 12 weeks mark if serious foetal anomalies put a woman’s life or health -- physically or psychologically -- at risk. The cost of the procedure will be covered by San Marino’s public health system. Previously, women living in San Marino, were forced to travel to Italy or somewhere else to access the care they needed. We sat down with Karen Pruccoli, activist and President of the Union of San Marino Women to discuss the changes in the microstate. Karen is an entrepreneur and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. How does it feel to have legal abortion in San Marino after 150 years of criminalisation? It feels great – incredible that we have this law. We are celebrating this long journey to get this law, but also we are also feeling sad we have this law only after so many years of trying to convince our politicians that San Marino’s citizens deserve to have this kind of law. Italy had its abortion law from 1978, so we were very behind. I am satisfied and happy, but unfortunately it arrived after too many years. What was the combination of factors that led to a win on abortion rights in San Marino despite having such a strict past on the issue? The main factor why we have this law is Unione Donne Sammarinesi – Union of San Marino Women - which was re-vitalised in 2019, but originally dates from the early 70s and started as a movement for women’s rights. The Union was revived in 2019 and geared its efforts towards trying to convince politicians that a new law on abortion was necessary. Once we realised it was difficult to gain political support, we courageously decided to ask for a referendum. It would have been nearly impossible to get legal abortion in place with the current makeup of the parliament, having a conservative majority, against reproductive freedom. If we were waiting for the parliament to be more progressive and pro-women’s rights, it would have taken another 20 years. So I think the main reason why we have this law is because of the Union which fights for women rights, civil rights, and human rights in the Republic of San Marino. What are your thoughts on the new abortion law in San Marino? We are very happy with the quality of this law, but it was a difficult journey. We met with conservative parties and groups against abortion to discuss how the new law would look like. They initially wanted to propose a law that was much more conservative and stricter. We were very worried at this stage. Those involved in the drafting of the San Marino law on abortion even considered implementing conditions similar to those in Hungary - where women are now forced to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access care. It was indeed difficult to push for a modern law, a progressive law that would respect women’s freedom of choice and place it at the centre of the legislation. However, Unione Donne Sammarinesi did not give up and advocated daily on social media, in the press, and by reaching out to communities and the country at large.  The resulting law is in line with the decision of the referendum – where 77% voted YES to ‘women being able to make reproductive choices in their lives’. To a certain extent the current San Marino law is better than the Italian one. In San Marino, we have family planning centres where women, men and young people can receive unbiased sexual and reproductive care. We also tried to mitigate the risk of medical professionals denying care based on personal beliefs, a huge problem in Italy. In San Marino, in the event doctors are not willing to provide abortion care, the state is obliged to find doctors who will, even if they need to bring them from aboard. What are the next steps for your advocacy work? Next, we will be working on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. An expert group on the topic from the Council of Europe visited San Marino and produced a report on how the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was implemented in the country. We had a lot of issues and are currently working on amending these. What is your opinion on deciding rights through popular vote?   We had two referendums on human rights: one asking to include the protection of sexual orientation in our human rights charter and one on abortion. This first referendum was in 2019 and 72% were in favour of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. And we know the result on the referendum on abortion. But, I think it is dangerous to have a referendum on human rights especially in Italy as it is a Catholic state, with strong conservative parties. We had no statistics that could could help us understand if people in San Marino were ready to legalize abortion. At that point we were asking for legal abortion for the past 20 years and we saw no other solution than to put it in the hands of the people. We followed closely what happened in countries like Gibraltar and Ireland and took inspiration from their successes. So, we decided to take the risk and go for the referendum. But, as far as I am concerned, a referendum on human rights or civil rights is risky.   What is your message to those still fighting for their reproductive freedom? Never give up! I think it is important to have at least one big and strong organisation of women’s rights activists that include women, men and young people. It’s also important to create a conversation, provide information and keep the attention on the topic. For so many years in San Marino, abortion was not discussed. Same as topics like domestic violence and medical assisted suicide (euthanasia). Even today, misleading information on abortion exists out there, so we need to be a strong organised group that is able to share accurate information and create a space for conversation.   Illustration: Ipsita Divedi for IPPF EN x Fine Acts

Stop repro bullying
15 September 2022

Abortion care: Hungary’s heartless move will humiliate and harm women

IPPF condemns the Hungarian government’s issuing of a decree that, from 15 September, will force women seeking abortion care to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access fundamental healthcare. This requirement has no medical purpose and serves only to humiliate women. It will make accessing abortion more burdensome. The new legislation was issued as a fait accompli by the government in Hungary without any expert or public consultation and without hearing from women.  Under Hungarian law, abortion care is available in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy on medical grounds or if the pregnant woman is in severe crisis. This new decree is the latest in a series of measures imposed by the government to undermine women’s autonomy. For example, dissuasive and intrusive mandatory counselling sessions have also been imposed on women seeking abortion care, with the sole result of humiliating and undermining their emotional health. This new legislative act from Viktor Orban’s government is shocking, but it is a development that women rights defenders in Hungary have already feared for some time, given the government’s disregard for women’s dignity and health and for democracy. IPPF joins our Hungarian partners in calling for the government to stop harassing women, and take urgent and effective measures that support contraceptive access and relationships and sexuality education, together with ensuring social policies that empower people to live freely. “As in Poland, it is tragic to see EU citizens paying the price, as their mental health, intimate lives and freedom are sacrificed on the altar of a government’s ultra-conservative agenda. Orban’s government knows very well that Hungarian public opinion is in favour of reproductive rights and that is why it is trying to chip away incrementally at women’s self-determination,” said IPPF European Network’s Irene Donadio.   Media contacts: Irene Donadio, IPPF EN: 0032 (0)491 719 390 - [email protected] ; [email protected] Nőkért Egyesület, Women’s Association, Hungary: 0036 70 620 2168 - [email protected] Julia Spronz, Patent, Hungary: [email protected]    Illustration by: Olga Mrozek for IPPF x Fine Acts

ADT - Justyna Wydrzyńska.jpg
14 July 2022

Poland: Trial drags on of rights defender accused of helping abuse survivor to access abortion

As today’s hearing in the trial of human rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska is postponed until October 14, we ask Poland’s Justice Ministry to immediately drop the charges against Justyna and stop oppressing woman rights defenders (WRDs). Justyna is 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 the controlling husband. Ania was denied abortion care, but the stress caused her to miscarry. Now, Justyna, a member of Abortion Without Borders and the Abortion Dream Team, is facing up to three years in prison for facilitating an abortion that didn’t happen. Her case marks the first in Europe in which a WRD is being prosecuted for helping ensure abortion care by providing abortion pills.

Ukraine solidarity
04 July 2022

The French Government commits 60.000 euros to help Ukrainian refugees access abortion care

We wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the French government to support the reproductive safety and freedom of Ukrainian refugees in Poland by financing Abortion Without Borders via IPPF EN. Abortion Without Borders is a civil society initiative working in countries with restrictive laws to help people access abortion care at home with pills or abroad in clinics. The French financial support will specifically be used for the management of help lines and to assist Ukrainian women in Poland travel abroad to receive the care they so desperately need. Concretely, it is expected that the 60.000 euros will help at least 150 women to received safe and legal abortion care outside Poland. Currently, Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. In practice, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. The barriers that have long faced Polish women now also affect Ukrainian refugees. We know that access to emergency contraception and safe abortion care is even more important following the increased threat and terrifying reported incidence of abuse, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and trafficking facing refugees and displaced people. Timing is also of the essence when treating victims of sexual violence and delays can prove dangerous for their physical and mental health. Civil society organizations and ordinary citizens are the ones providing this care to refugees, but this is not properly reflected in many funding schemes. This heroic effort is not sustainable. Without support, these solidarity networks will collapse, with devastating consequences for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Poland abortion protest
23 June 2022

The fight for legal abortion continues in Poland as Parliament rejects the will of the majority of its citizens for liberalisation

We are disappointed by the vote today in the Polish Parliament who rejected a civic initiative bill that would legalise abortion. 265 Members of Parliament voted against the safety, dignity and freedom of Polish women. 66% of Polish people want liberalization of abortion care which means that a small ultra-conservative group is deciding against the will of Polish citizens. Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party collected over 200k signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. This bill would have protected women and their families and could have avoided cases like Agnieszka's - who died in agony leaving her three children behind when doctors denied her abortion care when she was suffering from an obstetric emergency. Currently, Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. Together with Malta, it is one of only two European Union Member States that has not legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds. In Poland, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from rape. In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills or seek extra-legal abortion in Poland. Polish women, particularly those in difficult socio-economic situations, have to depend on the crucial help from civil society organizations, with often limited resources. We remain committed to the fight The vote today in the Polish Sejm comes after at the end of 2021 the ‘Stop Abortion’ bill was defeated in the same chamber. This terrifying bill would have imposed prison terms for women and anyone who helps them access abortion, including family members, friends and doctors. This back and forth between progress and regression is reminiscent of the fight for abortion care in Argentina, San Marino and Ireland. There were many votes lost but in the end, women won their right to bodily autonomy. In spite of harassment, legal attacks and intimidation campaigns, Polish women rights defenders stood yesterday in the Parliament, bravely defending the rights of many. They will continue to stand up to forces that want to police women’s bodies even if at risk of imprisonment. Justyna is currently facing jail time for allegedly helping a survivor of domestic violence get abortion pills. Recalling the yesterday’s debate in Parliament, Marta Lempart from the Polish Women's Strike said: “We saw all the hysteria yesterday, the walking out, the tantrums, the shouting, when they saw me speak in the Chamber. The displeasure that they had to listen to what I as a citizen had to say to them. On the other hand, they did everything to have to listen to me once again. Clearly, they have invited me to the Sejm again. Again, they want to meet me, again they want us to see each other there. I am ready."

gayatri-malhotra-JbAOhfWum1s-unsplash.jpg
24 June 2022

U.S Supreme court overturns Roe v. Wade in biggest blow to women's health and rights in recent history

The U.S Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade in the biggest blow to women's health and rights in recent U.S history, removing 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion across America, meaning individual states will now decide the legality of abortion within their jurisdiction. Twenty-six states, including Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia, are now poised to enact "trigger laws" that will severely limit or ban abortion, putting approximately 40 million women and girls of reproductive age at risk of losing abortion access, with lower-income people and people of color most severely affected.  The patchwork of state abortion bans means those without funds to travel for safe and legal abortion services or access medical abortion pills will be forced underground to unsafe and unregulated methods, with no guarantee of quality of care or aftercare if things go wrong. The devastating rollback of reproductive rights resulted from the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, a 2018 ruling that banned abortion in Mississippi after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Of the nine federal Supreme Court Justices, 6 voted to uphold the Mississippi law, effectively overturning Roe v. Wade and 3 dissented. Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said:    

Spain flag
19 May 2022

Spain debates plans for paid menstrual leave and wider abortion access

Currently, abortion care is available during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy based on a woman's indication.  Up to 22 weeks, abortion is permitted in cases of serious risk to the life or health of the woman or foetus. Thereafter, abortion care is only accessible in cases of foetal abnormalities incompatible with life or extremely serious and incurable illness. Nonetheless, access to dignified and safe care remains an obstacle course especially for those already marginalized by systemic discrimination. But there is hope. This week, the government discussed a progressive law which gives autonomy to girls aged 16 to 18 to access abortion care without parental consent; regulates denial of care based on personal beliefs; and scraps medically unnecessary 3-day waiting periods delaying access to abortion. If approved, the law would also extend financing for contraceptive care. The draft law also guarantees up to 3 days of menstrual leave for painful periods; eliminates VAT on menstrual products; and asks that schools and prisons offer free menstrual products.  

Poland
13 December 2022

Poland: Women's rights defenders fighting a broken justice

Women’s rights activist Justyna Wydrzyńska faces up to three years in prison after being charged with providing abortion pills to a woman who wanted them – the first case of its kind in Europe. In 2020, Wydrzyńska, a member of Polish activist group Abortion Dream Team, answered a request for abortion pills from a woman whom she said seemed to be in an abusive relationship and had decided not to go through a full pregnancy. But the abortion never took place – the pills were intercepted by the woman’s husband, who called the police. Wydrzyńska was arrested and charged with facilitating an abortion. Today, she hopes her case will shine a light on Poland’s strict abortion laws – and the way the judicial system is being used to persecute rights defenders who protest them. At least six women are reported to have died after being denied an abortion since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal imposed a near-total ban on abortion care just over two years ago. At the time, the ruling prompted massive demonstrations across the country. The initially peaceful protesters were met with excessive force from authorities, who used tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault to subdue them. These attacks were followed by arrests and charges for those defending women’s rights.  Today, the judicial persecution of rights defenders in Poland continues. Prosecutors with a political agenda have brought spurious charges against activists, and cases have been heard by judges loyal to the ruling Law and Justice party. We at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) have spoken to several activists in Poland as part of our Defend the Defenders campaign, which highlights their plight, fundraises for psychological support and legal assistance in court cases, and asks the European Union to take action to protect activists. Wydrzyńska is one such activist. Speaking to IPPF EN, she said: “Empathy shouldn’t be punished, especially when someone is asking you for help. I feel there is only one chance to show that the law is extremely harmful. Even if I get a jail sentence, I am ready. I think this battle is bigger than my freedom.” Under Polish law, people who have abortions are not criminalised, but those who directly help them are. The government and ultra-conservative right-wing groups want harsher punishments for abortion rights activists. They also target family members, partners and friends who try to help women access abortion care. Wydrzyńska says Poland’s Ministry of Justice has appointed a right-wing judge to her case, which has been adjourned twice after a witness failed to attend, with the next hearing scheduled for next month. It has been reported that at the trial, the judge will allow Ordo Iuris – a Polish fundamentalist organisation that campaigns against abortion rights and LGBTIQ rights in the country – to stand with the prosecution to represent the rights of the foetus.   Persecuting rights defenders Activist Marta Lempart was charged under Covid laws – along with two other women, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka-Fabin – for taking part in the 2020 anti-abortion protests. Each woman faces eight years in prison. Lempart said her case has already been tried once and dismissed by a judge due to a lack of evidence. Now, the prosecution is trying again. Lempart has 106 charges brought against her, including offences relating to breaking COVID regulations, blocking traffic, hanging posters, and littering in public. Most of these charges are pending due to a stand-off between Poland and the EU. Poland’s funding from the bloc has been frozen for over a year, amid concerns from the bloc over the judicial independence in the country. If the reforms demanded by the EU come to fruition, charges against activists like Lempart are likely to be dropped – but in the meantime, the toll on activists’ mental health and finances is severe. Speaking to the IPPF EN, Lempart said: “We can’t count on courts to be fair for long as the crackdown of the independent judiciary in Poland is happening at the maximum speed. The judges' removals from the cases and replacements, based on political decisions of the ruling party are a daily occurrence. “The government now aims for full power to decide which judge gets which case, taking overhead positions in all possible courts. Legal fees and misdemeanour fines are also hefty – if prosecutors can’t put people in jail, they want to cripple them financially.” To make matters worse, the political atmosphere created and fostered by the ruling Law and Justice party means many people feel it is acceptable to intimidate rights defenders in other ways. Some activists have been sent death threats and bomb threats by neo-nazi groups, and Lempart was assigned police protection after an escalating threat was made against her life. And alongside her numerous charges, Lempart has also had a libel case filed against her by the ultra-conservative organisation, Ordo Iuris.   Glimmers of hope It is not just activists under attack – journalists, politicians, independent judges and ordinary citizens in Poland also suffer from politicised assaults. In one case, lawmaker Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus faces two charges for participating in a 2020 protest, in which she held up a banner supporting abortion in a church. The prosecutor’s office in the city of Toruń charged Scheuring-Wielgus with ‘offending religious feelings’ and ‘malicious interference with religious worship’, according to Human Rights Watch. The hearing will take place in January, with each offence – for which she has pleaded not guilty – carrying a penalty of up to two years in prison. In another worrying development, Polish freedom fighters seem to have lost an ally due to recent changes in the Ombudsman’s Office, the supposedly neutral body appointed to investigate complaints made against public officials. The ombudsman, Marcin Wiącek, has dismissed his deputy, Hanna Machińska, who was known for protecting the rights of refugees on the Polish-Belarusian border and for intervening on behalf of protesters detained during pro-abortion and pro-LGBTIQ rights’ protests. Machińska will be replaced with Wojciech Brzozowski, a specialist in religious law. Meanwhile, the EU waits for Poland to meet the milestones its commission set for releasing the Cohesion and Covid Recovery Funds, now frozen due to severe breaches of the rule of law and fundamental rights. But MEPs have expressed concern that the commission’s criteria was not enough – and urged the EU council not to release the funds until Poland has fully complied with EU law. Lempart agrees, believing the EU’s approach emboldens the Law and Justice party. She explained: “The milestones are not in compliance with the EU Court of Justice rulings, so the EU is breaking its own laws. “It sends a clear message that they don’t care about the rule of law in Poland, and there is now an attempt to fast-track cases against protesters before these new changes are implemented.” We must ask ourselves – is this the Europe we want to live in, where rights are negotiable, where women are forced through pregnancy, and rights defenders are dragged to court by fundamentalist governments?  But hope remains, and with Polish parliamentary elections coming up next year, people have a chance to push for positive change. Support for liberalising abortion laws has risen from 37% in 2016 to 70% in 2022, while support for same-sex marriage has risen from 18% to 52% over the same time period.  “Moderate conservatism has been hijacked but the Law and Justice party is destroying itself,” said Lempart. “People saw the violence we faced. There has been a huge wave of support from people who don’t want to be part of the anti-women and anti-LGBT+ campaigns. They are too dogmatic, there must be a middle ground. People are moving more towards love and not hate.”   Originally published in Open Democracy. Credit photo: Spacerowiczka

Justyna
07 December 2022

Justyna: ‘I may be sitting alone but I am not alone’

‘They want to leave women alone with their ‘problem,’ says Polish women’s rights defender, Justyna of the ruling ultra-conservative party in Poland.  Justyna, a mother of three, works in an increasingly hostile environment, one in which women’s sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) are being completely dismantled. 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. The only way for women who need a safe abortion is to rely on NGOs and women’s rights defenders, like Justyna, who enable self-administrated abortions; a safe and easy way avoid being forced through a pregnancy.

defend the defenders
25 October 2022

Polish prosecutors indict women’s human rights defenders and plan to go ahead with another sham trial

Three leading women’s rights defenders are facing eight years in prison in Poland for exercising their right to peaceful protest.  Prosecutors in Warsaw filed the indictment against Marta Lempart, Klementyna Suchanow and Agnieszka Czerederecka-Fabin of the Polish Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK), a partner of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network, for allegedly organizing protests during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Massive protests were prompted back in October 2020 by the decision of the illegally appointed Constitutional Tribunal to impose a near-total ban on abortion care. Peaceful protesters were met with excessive force, with authorities using tear gas, pepper spray and physical assault. Now, two years on, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are still being attacked by Polish authorities, with defenders facing violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, including bomb threats, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media, detention and excessive criminal charges orchestrated and encouraged by the government. In the case of the Polish Women’s Strike’s members, these charges include “causing an epidemiological threat”, endangering public health and publicly praising crimes.  The new indictment against the women’s rights defenders came just days before the second anniversary of the near-total ban on abortion, which has killed six women so far. It also comes in the same month that a court hearing was held in the trial of Justyna Wydrzyńska.  Justyna, a member of Abortion Without Borders and the Abortion Dream Team, is facing up to three years in prison for facilitating an abortion that didn’t happen. Her case marks the first in Europe where a WHRD is being prosecuted for helping ensure abortion care by providing abortion pills. Justyna’s trial is ongoing. Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, European Network, said:

abortion care IPPF EN
28 September 2022

San Marino legalizes abortion care overturning a century-old law: interview with women’s rights advocate

San Marino recently legalised abortion care, one year after the landmark referendum. In 2021, 77% of citizens voted overwhelmingly to overturn the 150-year-old law to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is also available after the 12 weeks mark if serious foetal anomalies put a woman’s life or health -- physically or psychologically -- at risk. The cost of the procedure will be covered by San Marino’s public health system. Previously, women living in San Marino, were forced to travel to Italy or somewhere else to access the care they needed. We sat down with Karen Pruccoli, activist and President of the Union of San Marino Women to discuss the changes in the microstate. Karen is an entrepreneur and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. How does it feel to have legal abortion in San Marino after 150 years of criminalisation? It feels great – incredible that we have this law. We are celebrating this long journey to get this law, but also we are also feeling sad we have this law only after so many years of trying to convince our politicians that San Marino’s citizens deserve to have this kind of law. Italy had its abortion law from 1978, so we were very behind. I am satisfied and happy, but unfortunately it arrived after too many years. What was the combination of factors that led to a win on abortion rights in San Marino despite having such a strict past on the issue? The main factor why we have this law is Unione Donne Sammarinesi – Union of San Marino Women - which was re-vitalised in 2019, but originally dates from the early 70s and started as a movement for women’s rights. The Union was revived in 2019 and geared its efforts towards trying to convince politicians that a new law on abortion was necessary. Once we realised it was difficult to gain political support, we courageously decided to ask for a referendum. It would have been nearly impossible to get legal abortion in place with the current makeup of the parliament, having a conservative majority, against reproductive freedom. If we were waiting for the parliament to be more progressive and pro-women’s rights, it would have taken another 20 years. So I think the main reason why we have this law is because of the Union which fights for women rights, civil rights, and human rights in the Republic of San Marino. What are your thoughts on the new abortion law in San Marino? We are very happy with the quality of this law, but it was a difficult journey. We met with conservative parties and groups against abortion to discuss how the new law would look like. They initially wanted to propose a law that was much more conservative and stricter. We were very worried at this stage. Those involved in the drafting of the San Marino law on abortion even considered implementing conditions similar to those in Hungary - where women are now forced to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access care. It was indeed difficult to push for a modern law, a progressive law that would respect women’s freedom of choice and place it at the centre of the legislation. However, Unione Donne Sammarinesi did not give up and advocated daily on social media, in the press, and by reaching out to communities and the country at large.  The resulting law is in line with the decision of the referendum – where 77% voted YES to ‘women being able to make reproductive choices in their lives’. To a certain extent the current San Marino law is better than the Italian one. In San Marino, we have family planning centres where women, men and young people can receive unbiased sexual and reproductive care. We also tried to mitigate the risk of medical professionals denying care based on personal beliefs, a huge problem in Italy. In San Marino, in the event doctors are not willing to provide abortion care, the state is obliged to find doctors who will, even if they need to bring them from aboard. What are the next steps for your advocacy work? Next, we will be working on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. An expert group on the topic from the Council of Europe visited San Marino and produced a report on how the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was implemented in the country. We had a lot of issues and are currently working on amending these. What is your opinion on deciding rights through popular vote?   We had two referendums on human rights: one asking to include the protection of sexual orientation in our human rights charter and one on abortion. This first referendum was in 2019 and 72% were in favour of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. And we know the result on the referendum on abortion. But, I think it is dangerous to have a referendum on human rights especially in Italy as it is a Catholic state, with strong conservative parties. We had no statistics that could could help us understand if people in San Marino were ready to legalize abortion. At that point we were asking for legal abortion for the past 20 years and we saw no other solution than to put it in the hands of the people. We followed closely what happened in countries like Gibraltar and Ireland and took inspiration from their successes. So, we decided to take the risk and go for the referendum. But, as far as I am concerned, a referendum on human rights or civil rights is risky.   What is your message to those still fighting for their reproductive freedom? Never give up! I think it is important to have at least one big and strong organisation of women’s rights activists that include women, men and young people. It’s also important to create a conversation, provide information and keep the attention on the topic. For so many years in San Marino, abortion was not discussed. Same as topics like domestic violence and medical assisted suicide (euthanasia). Even today, misleading information on abortion exists out there, so we need to be a strong organised group that is able to share accurate information and create a space for conversation.   Illustration: Ipsita Divedi for IPPF EN x Fine Acts

Stop repro bullying
15 September 2022

Abortion care: Hungary’s heartless move will humiliate and harm women

IPPF condemns the Hungarian government’s issuing of a decree that, from 15 September, will force women seeking abortion care to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access fundamental healthcare. This requirement has no medical purpose and serves only to humiliate women. It will make accessing abortion more burdensome. The new legislation was issued as a fait accompli by the government in Hungary without any expert or public consultation and without hearing from women.  Under Hungarian law, abortion care is available in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy on medical grounds or if the pregnant woman is in severe crisis. This new decree is the latest in a series of measures imposed by the government to undermine women’s autonomy. For example, dissuasive and intrusive mandatory counselling sessions have also been imposed on women seeking abortion care, with the sole result of humiliating and undermining their emotional health. This new legislative act from Viktor Orban’s government is shocking, but it is a development that women rights defenders in Hungary have already feared for some time, given the government’s disregard for women’s dignity and health and for democracy. IPPF joins our Hungarian partners in calling for the government to stop harassing women, and take urgent and effective measures that support contraceptive access and relationships and sexuality education, together with ensuring social policies that empower people to live freely. “As in Poland, it is tragic to see EU citizens paying the price, as their mental health, intimate lives and freedom are sacrificed on the altar of a government’s ultra-conservative agenda. Orban’s government knows very well that Hungarian public opinion is in favour of reproductive rights and that is why it is trying to chip away incrementally at women’s self-determination,” said IPPF European Network’s Irene Donadio.   Media contacts: Irene Donadio, IPPF EN: 0032 (0)491 719 390 - [email protected] ; [email protected] Nőkért Egyesület, Women’s Association, Hungary: 0036 70 620 2168 - [email protected] Julia Spronz, Patent, Hungary: [email protected]    Illustration by: Olga Mrozek for IPPF x Fine Acts

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14 July 2022

Poland: Trial drags on of rights defender accused of helping abuse survivor to access abortion

As today’s hearing in the trial of human rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska is postponed until October 14, we ask Poland’s Justice Ministry to immediately drop the charges against Justyna and stop oppressing woman rights defenders (WRDs). Justyna is 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 the controlling husband. Ania was denied abortion care, but the stress caused her to miscarry. Now, Justyna, a member of Abortion Without Borders and the Abortion Dream Team, is facing up to three years in prison for facilitating an abortion that didn’t happen. Her case marks the first in Europe in which a WRD is being prosecuted for helping ensure abortion care by providing abortion pills.

Ukraine solidarity
04 July 2022

The French Government commits 60.000 euros to help Ukrainian refugees access abortion care

We wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the French government to support the reproductive safety and freedom of Ukrainian refugees in Poland by financing Abortion Without Borders via IPPF EN. Abortion Without Borders is a civil society initiative working in countries with restrictive laws to help people access abortion care at home with pills or abroad in clinics. The French financial support will specifically be used for the management of help lines and to assist Ukrainian women in Poland travel abroad to receive the care they so desperately need. Concretely, it is expected that the 60.000 euros will help at least 150 women to received safe and legal abortion care outside Poland. Currently, Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. In practice, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. The barriers that have long faced Polish women now also affect Ukrainian refugees. We know that access to emergency contraception and safe abortion care is even more important following the increased threat and terrifying reported incidence of abuse, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and trafficking facing refugees and displaced people. Timing is also of the essence when treating victims of sexual violence and delays can prove dangerous for their physical and mental health. Civil society organizations and ordinary citizens are the ones providing this care to refugees, but this is not properly reflected in many funding schemes. This heroic effort is not sustainable. Without support, these solidarity networks will collapse, with devastating consequences for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Poland abortion protest
23 June 2022

The fight for legal abortion continues in Poland as Parliament rejects the will of the majority of its citizens for liberalisation

We are disappointed by the vote today in the Polish Parliament who rejected a civic initiative bill that would legalise abortion. 265 Members of Parliament voted against the safety, dignity and freedom of Polish women. 66% of Polish people want liberalization of abortion care which means that a small ultra-conservative group is deciding against the will of Polish citizens. Women’s rights organizations and parliament members of the opposition Lewica party collected over 200k signatures for a civic initiative bill, “Legal Abortion Without Compromise,” which would permit abortion without restriction as to reason up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It would permit abortion after 12 weeks in cases of risk to the person’s mental or physical health, a non-viable pregnancy, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. This bill would have protected women and their families and could have avoided cases like Agnieszka's - who died in agony leaving her three children behind when doctors denied her abortion care when she was suffering from an obstetric emergency. Currently, Poland has one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. Together with Malta, it is one of only two European Union Member States that has not legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds. In Poland, abortion is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from rape. In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year thousands of women leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries, while others import medical abortion pills or seek extra-legal abortion in Poland. Polish women, particularly those in difficult socio-economic situations, have to depend on the crucial help from civil society organizations, with often limited resources. We remain committed to the fight The vote today in the Polish Sejm comes after at the end of 2021 the ‘Stop Abortion’ bill was defeated in the same chamber. This terrifying bill would have imposed prison terms for women and anyone who helps them access abortion, including family members, friends and doctors. This back and forth between progress and regression is reminiscent of the fight for abortion care in Argentina, San Marino and Ireland. There were many votes lost but in the end, women won their right to bodily autonomy. In spite of harassment, legal attacks and intimidation campaigns, Polish women rights defenders stood yesterday in the Parliament, bravely defending the rights of many. They will continue to stand up to forces that want to police women’s bodies even if at risk of imprisonment. Justyna is currently facing jail time for allegedly helping a survivor of domestic violence get abortion pills. Recalling the yesterday’s debate in Parliament, Marta Lempart from the Polish Women's Strike said: “We saw all the hysteria yesterday, the walking out, the tantrums, the shouting, when they saw me speak in the Chamber. The displeasure that they had to listen to what I as a citizen had to say to them. On the other hand, they did everything to have to listen to me once again. Clearly, they have invited me to the Sejm again. Again, they want to meet me, again they want us to see each other there. I am ready."

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24 June 2022

U.S Supreme court overturns Roe v. Wade in biggest blow to women's health and rights in recent history

The U.S Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade in the biggest blow to women's health and rights in recent U.S history, removing 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion across America, meaning individual states will now decide the legality of abortion within their jurisdiction. Twenty-six states, including Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia, are now poised to enact "trigger laws" that will severely limit or ban abortion, putting approximately 40 million women and girls of reproductive age at risk of losing abortion access, with lower-income people and people of color most severely affected.  The patchwork of state abortion bans means those without funds to travel for safe and legal abortion services or access medical abortion pills will be forced underground to unsafe and unregulated methods, with no guarantee of quality of care or aftercare if things go wrong. The devastating rollback of reproductive rights resulted from the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, a 2018 ruling that banned abortion in Mississippi after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Of the nine federal Supreme Court Justices, 6 voted to uphold the Mississippi law, effectively overturning Roe v. Wade and 3 dissented. Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said:    

Spain flag
19 May 2022

Spain debates plans for paid menstrual leave and wider abortion access

Currently, abortion care is available during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy based on a woman's indication.  Up to 22 weeks, abortion is permitted in cases of serious risk to the life or health of the woman or foetus. Thereafter, abortion care is only accessible in cases of foetal abnormalities incompatible with life or extremely serious and incurable illness. Nonetheless, access to dignified and safe care remains an obstacle course especially for those already marginalized by systemic discrimination. But there is hope. This week, the government discussed a progressive law which gives autonomy to girls aged 16 to 18 to access abortion care without parental consent; regulates denial of care based on personal beliefs; and scraps medically unnecessary 3-day waiting periods delaying access to abortion. If approved, the law would also extend financing for contraceptive care. The draft law also guarantees up to 3 days of menstrual leave for painful periods; eliminates VAT on menstrual products; and asks that schools and prisons offer free menstrual products.