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The backstory: Poland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. While abortion was very accessible there for most of the 20th century, the procedure became heavily restricted in 1993, shortly after Poland left the USSR. A couple of years ago, abortion became even more difficult to access, with the government making it legal only in cases of a crime, like rape or incest, or when the woman’s life or health is at risk.
The laws only criminalize abortion providers, so self-managed abortions are still popular since they aren’t prosecuted. So, if women order abortion pills from outside of Poland, they can get abortions within the limits of Polish law.
More recently: There are still a lot of groups that champion reproductive rights for women in Poland. Justyna Wydrzyńska co-founded Abortion Dream Team, which is a group that campaigns against abortion stigma. On its website, Abortion Dream Team said that she gave abortion pills to a pregnant woman named Ania, who suffered from domestic abuse from her husband. Her husband threatened to report her for kidnapping if she went to Germany with her 3-year-old son for an abortion. When she had the pills, Ania’s husband reported her to the police, who took them away. This was illegal because Wydrzyńska personally gave Ania the abortion pills, effectively becoming an abortion supplier.
The development: On Tuesday, a Warsaw court convicted Wydrzyńska to eight months of community service for assisting with abortion. This is a landmark trial. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), this case is the first time in recent history that someone in Europe has been prosecuted and convicted for helping with abortion access. Rights groups are afraid this case could set a precedent in Poland, creating a slippery slope of repression that would make things harder for women’s rights activists who assist women seeking abortions. But, Wydrzyńska does plan on appealing the sentence.
"We are deeply saddened by the decision and outraged by the entire process. Condemning a person for an act of empathy and compassion towards another human being is inconceivable," said the International Planned Parenthood Federation spokesperson Irene Donadio.
Ordo Iuris, a Catholic legal institute that supported the prosecution as an interested party, said the ruling was "an important step towards real respect for the right to life of unborn children in force in Poland."
"I don't feel guilty at all. I just sat there and listened as if it didn't concern me at all. I don't accept the verdict," Wydrzyńska told journalists outside the courtroom after the hearing.