A district court in Warsaw today convicted human rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska of the crime of “helping with an abortion” for assisting a woman with access to abortion medication in 2020.
The case marks the first time in recent history in which an abortion rights defender in Europe has been prosecuted and convicted for assisting with access to abortion.
Wydrzyńska has been sentenced to eight months of community service for 30 hours a month for assisting the woman.
Poster of Justyna Wydrzyńska.
Wydrzyńska’s “prosecution sets a dangerous precedent for the targeting of human rights defenders in Poland who are working to advance reproductive rights and challenge Poland’s de facto ban on abortion,” said Keina Yoshida, Senior Legal Adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The Center for Reproductive Rights presented an amicus to the court in Wydrzyńska’s case in July 2022.
Poland Has Regressed on Abortion Rights, Imposing More Restrictions in 2020
While almost all European countries have liberalized their abortion laws in recent decades, Poland is one of the few countries globally to have regressed, and its law on abortion remains among the strictest in Europe. It is one of only two European Union member states that do not allow abortion on request and has banned abortion in almost all circumstances.
In 2020, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal removed a legal ground for abortion when it ruled abortion unconstitutional on grounds of severe or fatal fetal impairment. As a result, abortion in Poland is only permitted in situations of risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman, or if a pregnancy results from sexual assault.
In practice, however, it is almost impossible for those eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one. Every year, thousands of women who have the resources to do so leave Poland to access abortion care in other European countries. Since the Tribunal ruling, at least six women have died after being denied life-saving care during pregnancy, and dozens of complaints have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.
“Criminalizing abortion and prosecuting those providing assistance and support to people in need of health care is wrong. It contravenes international human rights treaties and flies in the face of modern medical practice and World Health Organization guidelines,” continued Yoshida. “For decades, Polish law and practice on abortion has caused grave harm to women across the country. Now it is being used by Polish authorities to clamp down on the activities of human rights defenders and create a climate of fear and repression.”
Wydrzyńska is one of the four founders of the Abortion Dream Team, a collective that offers evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information to people in Poland and campaigns against the country’s abortion restrictions.