Lawyers urge Poland to drop charges against woman in abortion pill case

Prominent rights groups joined progressive European parliamentarians on Wednesday in urging Polish prosecutors to drop charges against an activist who faces up to three years in prison for helping a pregnant woman access abortion pills .

“No one should be criminalized, let alone prosecuted, for helping someone get a safe abortion.”

Justyna Wydrzyńska, a 47-year-old doula and member of the advocacy group Abortion Dream Team, was charged in November 2021 with “assisting in an abortion” and possession of unauthorized drugs.

“A woman contacted me in a desperate situation”, Wydrzyńska Explain to Amnesty International. “She told me that her abusive husband was trying to stop her from having an abortion. Her story touched me because I had been through a similar experience. I felt I had to help her.”

Polish law prohibits abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of a pregnant person is in danger. Anyone found guilty of helping someone terminate a pregnancy outside of these rare exceptions can be imprisoned for up to three years.

Wydrzyńska is due to appear in a Warsaw court on Thursday for a hearing. An earlier hearing was postponed after key prosecution witnesses, including the allegedly abusive husband of the pregnant woman who received the pills, failed to appear. The same man reported his wife to the police.

“Justyna Wydrzyńska’s trial comes at a time when the threat to abortion rights was highlighted by the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. It is a reminder that our rights to life, health, bodily integrity and autonomy cannot be taken for granted,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International. said Wednesday.

“We must and are ready to fight for our rights for as long as it takes, when and where necessary. The immediate dropping of all charges against Justyna Wydrzyńska would set a dangerous precedent in Poland,” he said. she continued. “It will also send a chilling message to other governments seeking to restrict the activities of abortion rights activists, who campaign for bodily autonomy and the right to access safe abortions.”

“No one should be criminalized, let alone prosecuted, for helping someone get a safe abortion,” Callamard said. “All over the world, the ban on safe abortion kills thousands of women and girls every year.”

Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “dragging a women’s rights activist to court accused of 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”.

Margolis continued:

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.

Prosecuting Justyna is another cynical and vicious attempt by the Polish authorities to cut off all avenues to safe abortion care through fearmongering. 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 do so, without risking a prison sentence.

Keina Yoshida, legal counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who filed a amicus brief in the case – argued Wednesday that “essential health care, including abortion care, is a human right”.

“Using the criminal law to target women in need of abortion care, or those who help them, is contrary to international human rights law,” she said. “Women human rights defenders should be protected by the law, rather than punished by it.”

Earlier this week, 83 members of the European Parliament called on the Polish authorities to drop the charges.

“This is currently one of the most important cases in Europe,” the parliamentarians wrote in a letter who called Wydrzyńska’s work “an expression of empathy, solidarity and understanding the needs of others”.

“The hearing is taking place in a political context hostile to defenders of women’s rights and respect for women’s rights in general,” said the deputies. “International human rights standards make it clear that this case should not be pending at all.

Dozens of Belgian lawmakers have also urged Polish prosecutors to change course.

“Based on new guidelines from the World Health Organization which include comprehensive abortion care in the list of essential health services and which recommend the total decriminalization of abortion,” the Belgian parliamentarians said. wrote“we urge you to immediately drop all charges against human rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska and not to bring any other charges with the aim of criminalizing Justyna and other activists for providing vital support to the people seeking an abortion.”

Comments are closed.