Closing speech in court by Justyna Wydrzyńska (excerpts), request for an acquittal & judge’s verdict – 14 March
“…We, women who have experienced domestic violence, know what sacrifices we have to make to protect the welfare of the children we already have in the first place. I have three of them. Mothers dealing with domestic violence will do everything to ensure that their children have peaceful nights and that they themselves can stop living in constant, debilitating tension. We people experiencing violence keep what we experience a secret, we are ashamed that we did not have enough courage to fight for our freedom that we allowed ourselves to be limited. We are often alone by choice and necessity.
These obvious facts have a powerful connection to the need to control your fertility. Living in violence, we often do not realize that we have lost control over our body and over the rest of our lives. Because there is a person in the house who in many aspects, even against you, makes decisions for you. In my case, termination of pregnancy, in which I did not want to be with a man who hurt me, an abusive man, made me realize that I have power over my own life and I can return this control to myself. I felt that I can decide, and the fear I felt is not only caused by fear for the body, but also for freedom, which is the superior right of every human being.
I got a divorce in 2009 after 11 years of marriage. To protect myself and my three children. But the memories of violence are still with me. This can not be forgotten. And I don’t wish that on anyone.
My own abortion was a turning point for me. I would not like to live in a world where any woman would lack access to reliable information and the simplest human support. This has been my motivation for years, which guides me in activism – in pro-social activities. For me, this process, even symbolically, is also the process of all other people who help others in need.
I feel like I’m not on trial alone. My friends stand behind me, but also hundreds of women whom I haven’t had the good fortune to meet yet.
In this room, we are touching upon fundamental human rights. Including the right to self-determination.
But Your Honor, I am here. In the dock. And the last year for me and my family, for my loved ones, has been very difficult. I feel I’m not to blame. What I heard in this room, what exactly were the circumstances of Ania’s life situation, only confirmed my belief that I did the right thing. They made me realize that you should trust your intuition and take risks when it comes to supporting people in need. I would never want any woman to go through difficult situations alone, not have support from anyone or even her closest family to be her enemy and act against her. I believe that helping another man when he asks for help in desperation fighting for freedom is our necessity, it is an element of humanity that I will not renounce, I will not be ashamed or consider it a crime.
Your Honor, we live in a country that doesn’t respect women. The Polish anti-abortion law of the 1990s was one of the strictest in Europe. It was strict because it forced people with unwanted pregnancies to have abortions in secret.
For them, activist organizations are the only salvation from dubious traders or dangerous methods. Initiatives such as Abortion Without Borders are doing work that should have been owned by the state and part of the public health system for years. I have been working in this area for 16 years and unfortunately I see how decisions by the state change the situation of women for the worse.
The anti-abortion law is not only cruel but also fictitious. The law does not stop people with unwanted pregnancies from having abortions…
Freeing yourself from an unwanted pregnancy in an abusive relationship opens the way to freeing yourself from violence in general…. For me it was like that, abortion was a factor that made me realize how much I am limited and how much I need freedom and the ability to decide for myself. I wanted the same for Ania, so that she could experience agency over her life and body, just like me….
We are gathered here to decide my guilt. I am innocent, I say out loud – this state is guilty and has failed me, Ania, Iza from Pszczyna, Agnieszka from Częstochowa and millions of women in this country. I am asking for an acquittal.”
SOURCE: Aborcyjny Dream Team, 14 & 15 March 2023 + PHOTO of Justyna: 2022
Justyna’s lawyers also asked for an acquittal: When Ania’s partner found out about the pills, he confiscated them and reported Justyna to the police. Ania never had the baby but subsequently had a miscarriage, according to reports. This is also said to be the first time a women’s health advocate has been put on trial for aiding an abortion, rather than a medic.
The verdict was not expected on the 14th but it was handed down by the judge before the afternoon ended in Warsaw. Justyna was found guilty of aiding Ania to have an abortion.
National media reports
BBC, by Adam Easton, Warsaw, 14 March 2023 (English)
Le Monde, 14 March 2023 (en français)
NOS Nieuws Netherlands, 14 March 2023 (Dutch) + PHOTO: AFP
Statements of solidarity from Justyna’s supporters
Abortion Dream Team
“Unexpected end of the trial: The court verdict is a scandalous attempt to intimidate women who, under Polish law, have no possibility to legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy and have to perform abortions in secret from the state. The entire trial was nothing but a show of political repression from the very start. Polish law does not reflect the real needs of Polish women: according to the latest survey, about 80% of Poles do not want abortion to be penalised, and about half of people declared in the survey: I would act just like Justyna did.”
European Safe Abortion Networking Group members
“Absolutely awful news, glad her lawyers will appeal. Sending strength and solidarity from all of us!!”
European Parliamentary groups
Tweet from Socialists & Democrats Group in Europe, 15 March 2023
Yesterday’s sentencing in Poland of #JustynaWydrzyńska, criminalised for helping a woman in need, is shameful. It sets a dangerous precedent for women all over Europe. Let’s be clear! The right to abortion and sexual/reproductive healthcare is a human right. #JakJustyna
Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe, 15 March 2023
Justyna Wydrzyńska’s sentence attacks women’s rights in the EU. Renew Europe condemns the decision of the Polish judiciary to sentence women’s rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska to eight months of community service for providing abortion pills to a victim of domestic violence. The Group’s MEPs call for the sentence of Wydrzyńska to be overturned, as defending the fundamental right to access safe and legal abortion cannot be a crime. Her case marks the first in Europe in which an activist is prosecuted and found guilty of helping someone access abortion care. This conviction sets a dangerous precedent in the EU by scaring women rights activists to silence with the threat of possible penalties. In support of her and other courageous women’s rights defenders, Renew Europe has requested a plenary debate to take place in European Parliament in Strasbourg. In the debate, Renew Europe MEPs will be calling for Poland’s Justice Ministry to immediately reverse the decision and stop the witch-hunt of women’s rights defenders.
Editorial comment: Marge Berer, ICWRSA
Even though the law is anti-women and unjust in the extreme, what Justyna did, even if Ania never used the pills, was illegal in Poland. Perhaps legally she could not have been acquitted as judges are not empowered to reject the law. They are empowered to determine the sentence, however. Justyna could have been sent to prison for three years, but she will not serve any prison time at all. This is surely a victory of a kind. The punishment, every punishment by a court, is meant to humiliate. But compared to three years in prison… And it is surely not what the anti-abortion fanatics in Poland intended when they passed that law. My hope is that this sentence has undermined, if not completely sabotaged, the intended use of that law.
We welcome further discussion for publication in the Campaign newsletter next week.
Many would do the same as Justyna, research shows
In February 2023, on behalf of Amnesty International, a public opinion poll was conducted by the research agency SW Research. The results clearly show that people living in Poland intend to support themselves in abortions. When asked whether the respondents would help with an abortion in a situation similar to the one we know from the story of Justyna and Ania, 47.2% answered affirmatively. Among young people (18-24 years old), the willingness to help in abortion for those experiencing domestic violence increased to 65.6%. At the same time, only a dozen or so percent said that it would not help in such a situation.
At the same time, the survey shows that people in Poland oppose punishment for helping to access an abortion in Poland. According to the respondents, one should not be punished for psychological support (81.9%), providing information (74.2%), financial assistance (60.8%) or assistance in going abroad for abortion (61.2%).
SOURCE: Amnesty International Poland, 13 March 2023 + PHOTO by Grzegorz Żukowski
Polish parliament rejected abortion bill banning “promotion of abortion” before elections
The Polish Parliament rejected a bill that aimed to further restrict the abortion law on 7 March, with some conservative members of the ruling PiS saying off the record that they did not want the bill to cause a new wave of street protests ahead of the upcoming elections.
The bill was entitled: “Abortion is murder”. It was submitted to parliament by anti-abortion activist Kaja Godek and her “Life and Family” Foundation, aiming to sanction those promoting abortion in Poland and abroad, and those advising and distributing materials on the subject of abortion.
The bill would also have introduced prison terms for “publicly promoting or calling for abortion” or providing information about how women can obtain abortions in Poland or abroad. The bill was presented as a citizen’s legislative initiative supported by public signatures. It was rejected by a large majority of MPs, but over half of members of the conservative ruling coalition’s caucus voted either to allow it to proceed or abstained from voting.
SOURCES: EURACTIV.pl by Aleksandra Krzysztoszek, 7 March 2023 ; Notes from Poland, 8 March 2023