Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union, and in practice, it is all but banned. But four women, nicknamed the “Abortion Dream Team,” are pushing back, holding workshops around the country teaching women how to obtain and self-manage a medical abortion.
The Abortion Dream Team’s approach – practical assistance and public provocation – is a bare-knuckled challenge to Poland’s contradictory abortion regime, in which abortion is barely accessible, rarely discussed, yet regularly obtained.
The four members of the Dream Team came together in October of 2016, with the goal of providing direct and immediate assistance to women who needed abortions, but were ineligible for a legal one under the law’s extremely narrow criteria. They also wanted to start a public conversation about the reality of abortion in Poland, unburdened by the language of stigma, morality, or politics.
Justyna founded the website Kobiety w Sieci (Women on the Net), Poland’s first online forum supporting women seeking abortions, contraception, or sex education, in 2006. (Last year, police raided her office, trying to obtain data on the users in the forum). Natalia is a researcher studying self-managed abortion, a history that stretches probably as far back as pregnancy. Karolina is a lawyer working at an LGBT organization. From Amsterdam, Kinga runs Women Help Women, a group that sends abortion pills to women around the world, including hundreds of Polish women each year. After the Black Protests grabbed the world’s attention, the Open Society Foundations began funding their work.
In their workshops, there are two hours of medical abortion #RealTalk. Natalia role-played a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, asking Justyna questions about how to find and take the pills, then turning to Karolina for legal advice. They took turns cuddling their props, two large circular pillows embroidered with the words “mifepristone” and “misoprostol.” No detail was too small. They explained that the pills are tasteless, an important consideration for pregnant women, who can be hypersensitive to taste and smell. Try ironing to stay active and vertical to ease the pain after taking misoprostol (showering, walking, and pacing up and down staircases also work, they said). Go to the hospital in the case of fainting, severe bleeding, or symptoms of an incomplete miscarriage, such as abdominal pain, fever, or an atypical smell from the vagina. No, a woman cannot go to prison for an abortion, because the law only punishes the people who have helped her terminate her pregnancy… and yes, it is definitely legal to hold a friend’s hand and care for her while she has her abortion. Most importantly, Natalia stressed, the Dream Team and their allies were there to help….