The first activist in Europe to face a criminal trial under Poland’s ultra-strict abortion laws has been found guilty of helping somebody obtain an abortion.
Justyna Wydrzyńska is one of the four founders of Abortion Dream Team, an activist collective that campaigns against abortion stigma in Poland.
She was sentenced to eight months of “restriction of freedom” by performing unpaid community service, working 30 hours a month.
While it is not a crime to take abortion pills in the country, helping somebody access abortion pills is criminalised, and that is what Wydrzyńska was charged with.
Mara Clarke, the co-founder of Supporting Abortions for Everyone (SAFE), told VICE World News: “This verdict is an enraging and yet unsurprising to this miscarriage of justice and waste of public funds. Justyna should have been absolved of all charges.”
VICE World News interviewed Wydrzyńska in Warsaw last year, where she told the story of a woman who had an abusive husband who would not let her leave the country to have an abortion. Wydrzyńska sent her abortion pills, that she had been keeping for personal use, to the woman who has been anonymised in the case as “Ania”.
“She was really begging [and] was telling me that she would do everything that to stop the pregnancy,” Wydrzyńska said at the time. “This is why I decided to send the pills, because I also have experience with domestic violence. My husband was also an abuser and a very controlling person.”
“I knew exactly what she was feeling, and what probably she had in her mind,” she adds. “I knew that she is so desperate that she will do even unsafe things, so I really had no choice, no other choice than just share the pills.”
Ania never took the pills (she would go on to miscarry according to Wydrzyńska), but they were found by her husband, who called the police citing Wydrzyńska’s contact information which had been left on the packaging.
Although Wydrzyńska admitted to police that she did send the pills to the woman, her lawyers have argued that this does not mean she aided an abortion – wording designed to restrict medical professionals from giving abortions.
In May 2021, the prosecutor in Warszawa-Praga issued a warrant to confiscate items from the activist’s home and pills containing mifepristone and misoprostol were found, which the prosecutor argues do not have authorisation in Poland.
In October 2020, Poland’s abortion law became one of the strictest in Europe, eliminating one of the very few remaining legal grounds for abortion, that of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life.”
The law now only forbids abortion unless pregnancy threatens the pregnant person’s life or health, or is the result of rape or incest. But significant barriers remain even for these circumstances; many medical professionals are conscientious objectors, and there is a requirement to show proof of rape.
Poland has been watching the case closely; today, four parliamentarians came to view the hearing in court as final pieces of evidence from the prosecution were heard, including a recent speech Wydrzyńska gave in Parliament as well as a press video from the ADT.
Abortion rights supporters also attended, and showed solidarity after the prosecutor mentioned in his speech that providing a telephone number to Abortion Without Borders constitutes as helping somebody get an abortion.
The case had been repeatedly delayed due to key witnesses not appearing in court.