(Berlin) – The Polish Justice Ministry should drop all charges against abortion rights activist Justyna Wydrzyńska and stop targeting reproductive rights activists, Human Rights Watch said today. Wydrzyńska is accused of helping a woman in an abusive relationship access pills for a self-managed medical abortion in 2020. She is being prosecuted for helping someone get an abortion and illegally “marketing” drugs without permission.
Wydrzyńska’s lawsuit is part of the government’s sustained attack on sexual and reproductive rights, including access to abortion, and aims to further limit the already severely restricted access to abortion in Poland. In this hostile environment, women and girls rely on civil society initiatives to provide access to evidence-based sexual and reproductive health care and information. A hearing in the Wydrzyńska case will take place on July 14, 2022 at the Praga Południe District Court in Warsaw.
“Bringing a women’s rights activist to court for helping a victim of domestic violence shows how far the Polish government will go in its crusade to prevent women and girls from exercising their reproductive rights,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights. Look. “Tomorrow, anyone could be in Justyna Wydrzyńska’s shoes, and no one should risk being charged with a crime for helping women get essential healthcare.”
This is the first known prosecution in Europe of an abortion activist for allegedly supplying abortion pills. Wydrzyńska is part of Abortion Dream Teamwhich works for destigmatize abortion in Poland and providing information and support to people wishing to have an abortion.
The first hearing on 8 April in the Wydrzyńska case was postponed when the main witnesses for the prosecution did not appear. This included the domestic violence survivor’s husband, who reported to police his wife’s intention to terminate her pregnancy. His wife allegedly contacted Wydrzyńska in early 2020 saying she could not travel outside of Poland to have an abortion due to her husband’s controlling and abusive behavior, which ultimately led to the charges against Wydrzyńska.
During the April 8 hearing, representatives of human rights groups were not allowed to enter the courtroom. On the other hand, the judge permit the ultra-conservative organization Ordo Iuris to join the accusation as a “party of social interest” for defend the rights of the fetus, although a fetus has no legal personality, status or rights under Polish law. A number of human rights organizations submitted third-party interventions in support of Wydrzyńska.
In October 2020, Poland politically compromised The Constitutional Court has ruled that abortion on the grounds of “serious and irreversible fetal malformation or incurable disease that threatens the life of the fetus” is unconstitutional, virtually eliminating legal abortion in the country. Previously, more than 90 percent of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions performed each year in Poland are for this reason. Abortion is now only permit to protect a woman’s life or health or if the pregnancy results from a crime, such as rape or incest. In practice, multiple obstacles mean that it is almost impossible for people eligible for a legal abortion to obtain one.
Under Polish law, criminal charges cannot be brought against those who have an abortion – including a medical abortion – or who possess pills for a medical abortion. But anyone who offers an abortion or helps someone get one that isn’t legal can face up to three years in prison.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that medical abortion is a safe and non-invasive method that can be self-managed up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. The medications recommended for medical abortion – mifepristone and misoprostol – are included in the list of essential medicines.
In addition to ending the malicious lawsuits against Wydrzyńska, the Polish government should urgently reverse course and ensure that everyone can access safe and legal abortion and all essential reproductive health services in the country, said Human Rights Watch.
Evidence consistently demonstrates that laws restricting or criminalizing abortion don’t eliminate itbut rather push people to seek abortion in ways that may endanger their mental and physical health and undermine their autonomy and dignity.
Since Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party came to power in 2015, women’s rights defenders have come under repeated attack from senior officials. government officialsultra-conservative groups and media. Groups including the Abortion Dream Team have faced bomb and death threats for their work in support of women’s rights and abortion rights.
United Nations Special Mandate Holders raised fear that the lawsuits against Wydrzyńska are intended to scare off those who help women and girls access safe abortions in Poland. They called the Polish government to decriminalize abortion, guarantee access to medical abortion and end attacks on human rights defenders, noting that “women human rights defenders in Poland are prosecuted for acts that do not should never be a crime”.
The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and members of the european parliament said the Polish government should drop all charges against Wydrzyńska and ensure safe access to sexual and reproductive health care. The organization also said that Poland should completely decriminalize abortion.
The European Parliament adopted a July 7 resolution calling for the inclusion of the right to abortion in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and urging EU member states to decriminalize abortion and ensure safe and legal access. More 50,000 people have signed an Amnesty International urgent action petition calling on the authorities to drop the charges against Wydrzyńska.
“Prosecuting Justyna is another cynical and vicious attempt by the Polish authorities to cut off all avenues to safe abortion care through fear,” Margolis said. “Instead, the government should use its resources to ensure that everyone in Poland can get the sexual and reproductive health care they need, and help others to do so, without risking a prison sentence. .”