Poland, 14 March 2023. Justyna Wydrzyńska, a women’s rights defender, was sentenced to eight months community service for helping a woman in need obtain an abortion.

Justyna is a member of the Abortion Dream Team, an abortion rights organisation. In 2020, she helped a woman in an abusive relationship to access abortion pills. The woman’s husband confiscated the pills and reported Justyna to the police. 

This is the first case in Europe where an abortion rights advocate was convicted for helping someone to access abortion care. Justyna’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent in the EU and beyond. 

Left MEP María Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (Podemos, Spain) said: “The conviction of Justyna in Poland for helping a woman to access her right to abortion is a violation of human rights and a cynical attempt to stop women helping women in need. Our full support goes to Justyna and to all those brave women who put themselves at risk to defend sexual and reproductive rights. Abortion must be a fundamental right in the EU and we will work hard to achieve it.”

This sentence puts the work of sexual and reproductive health and rights defenders at risk. It puts the lives of women seeking abortions at risk. Addressing a press conference organised by All of Us, the European Parliament’s cross-party and pro-choice network, Justyna Wydrzyńska said: “Yesterday I heard that I am guilty of empathy for helping another person obtain an abortion. I don’t feel guilty. I know I did the right thing. I will still support other women, I am not afraid of the verdict. Politicians try to close our mouths but we are not afraid.”

Wydrzyńska is just one of several Polish women facing lawsuits for advocating for abortion rights. Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU. The de facto abortion ban that came into force in October 2020 has been devastating for women seeking abortions in Poland and those defending their rights. 

Marta Lempart, an advocate and founder of the All-Poland Women’s Strike explained: “The most dangerous thing in Poland is separating women’s rights and human rights from the “core of democracy”. We (activists) can hold the fort, we’ll keep fighting for legal abortion but what we need is the EU voice to make this an issue about rule of law and judicial independence.”

The ban has deadly consequences. To date, at least six women have died after being denied abortion care in Poland. Denying access to abortion is a form of violence against women. Free, safe and legal abortion should be available to all women in the EU. As this judgment will likely have a chilling effect on all those seeking to help women, the EU must act to defend the women who fight for women. 

Left MEP, Malin Björk (Swedish Left Party) said: “It is more important than ever to show solidarity and stand up together with all the brave activists and human rights defenders in Poland. The de facto abortion ban was delivered by the country’s illegitimate constitutional court and  is in itself a breach of the rule of law. The EU must act. We cannot have this kind of justice system in the EU.”

 

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