The Left proposal for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was shortlisted: women fighting for the right to free, safe and legal abortion – Justyna Wydrzyńska (Poland), Morena Herrera (El Salvador) and Colleen McNicholas (US). 

Unsafe abortions are responsible for 39,000 preventable deaths per year. Restrictive laws lead women to undergo unsafe abortions. Worldwide, 40% of the female population live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, meaning 753 million women of reproductive age are at risk.

We are witnessing a global backlash against women’s rights fronted by religious, far-right and conservative groups in the name of so-called family values. In reality, they seek to control women’s bodies and their right to self-determination. Abortion rights advocates like Justyna, Morena and Colleen, often risk their lives and livelihoods standing up for women in need. Without them, many women would have nowhere to turn.

Left MEP Miguel Urban Crespo (Anticapitalistas, Spain) declared: 

“It is clearly a feminist candidature that opposes the far-right reactionary wave and stands for women’s sexual and reproductive rights. This candidature sends a clear message for the women’s rights defence and against the extreme right. Justyna Wydrzyńska (Poland), Morena Herrera (El Salvador) and Colleen McNicholas (US), represent all women who fight for universal access to free, legal and safe abortion. Because we cannot allow patriarchy, misogyny and conservative elites to decide on the body and life of women. Because we cannot and we will not stay silent when women’s rights to bodily autonomy are violated.”

More on the nominees: 

Justyna Wydrzyńska: “Our strength is we are in this together.”

Justyna Wydrzyńska is an activist, women’s rights defender and member of the Abortion Dream Team. In March, she was sentenced to eight months of community service for helping a woman in need obtain an abortion.

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 care. Justyna’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent in the EU and beyond.

Justyna 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 in Poland and those defending their rights.

Morena Herrera: “No cause is so important that women’s rights should be postponed.”

Morena Herrera is a Salvadoran feminist and social justice activist who has dedicated over 30 years of her life to fighting for freedom. During the Salvadoran Civil War, Morena served as a left-wing freedom fighter against the US-backed military dictatorship. Since the late 90s her battle has been defending women’s rights in El Salvador.

El Salvador has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Abortion is fully criminalised in all circumstances and can be punished by up to eight years in prison. Women can also be charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a 30- to 50-year prison sentence. This charge has been used against women suffering from miscarriages.

Morena leads the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, which fights to change legislation and defends women who are being prosecuted for abortion. The group secured the release of over 70 women since its inception and is currently involved in what could be a landmark case at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – which, depending on the outcome, could have wide-ranging impact across Latin America.

Colleen McNicholas: “The process of ensuring patient health care has become a political weapon – that must stop.”

Colleen is the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in Missouri, USA. Since the overturning of Roe v Wade, her abortion clinic was the last one offering this service in the state, now there are none. Colleen has been an outspoken defender of women’s rights, as well as healthcare workers who now fear prosecution for simply doing their jobs.

Millions of women and girls across the United States have seen their access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, since the US Supreme Court ruling. Twenty-two states now ban or restrict access to abortion care. Colleen has seen the ripple effect in her clinic as women with means to travel cross state lines.

Colleen testified before the US Senate, sounding the alarm that doctors waiting for legal advice before prescribing drugs or performing life-saving abortions will lead to preventable harm. Colleen’s advocacy focuses on providing resources to patients in states where abortions are illegal and to the clinics in states seeing an influx of patients seeking abortions.



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