13.07.2022 (PRESS RELEASE): On Thursday the Praga Południe District Court in Poland’s capital Warsaw will hold its next hearing in the case of human rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska. Wydrzyńska has been accused of helping a woman in an abusive relationship access abortion medication.
Poland’s law on abortion is among the strictest in Europe. Poland and Malta are the only two remaining European Union member states not to allow abortion on broad grounds. If convicted Wydrzyńska could face up to three years in prison.
In recent decades the overwhelming trend across Europe has been to legalize access to abortion and not to prosecute those who provide care or assistance. However, in 2020 Poland became the only EU member state in recent history to remove a ground for legal abortion from its law. Wydrzyńska’s trial sets a dangerous precedent for the targeting of reproductive rights defenders who are already facing a hostile environment in Poland.
“We are deeply concerned by the decision by Polish prosecutors to prosecute a human rights defender. Essential health care, including abortion care, is a human right.
“Using the criminal law to target women who need abortion care, or those who help them, is contrary to international human rights law. Women human rights defenders should be protected by the law, rather than punished by it.
The prosecution of Justyna Wydrzynska is a clear example of how sexual and reproductive rights activists are being targeted by the Polish authorities and face extreme repression in a context where reproductive rights are under attack,” says Keina Yoshida, a Legal Advisor at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
People who have an abortion, or who possess abortion pills, are not criminalized under Polish law. But anyone who provides abortion care or helps someone to obtain an abortion outside of the strict circumstances in which it is legal can be prosecuted. This contradicts World Health Organisation Guidance which clearly specifies that abortion should never be criminalized and that no one who helps someone access abortion care should be subject to criminal prosecution.
Wydrzyńska is one of the four founders of the Abortion Dream Team, a collective that offers evidence-based sexual and reproductive health care and information to people in Poland. Today in Poland abortion is only allowed in situations where a pregnancy results from rape or incest, or when there is a risk to a pregnant woman’s life or health. However, in practice abortion is almost impossible to access in such instances even though legal. At least three women have died in Poland since 2020 after being denied life-saving care during pregnancy.
The Center for Reproductive Rights presented an amicus to the court in this case.
Earlier this month the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the right to abortion be enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
For more information on European abortion laws and policies see the Center for Reproductive Rights Fact Sheet.
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