The ravages of restrictions on abortion
After a demonstration for the right to abortion, Gdansk, 22 October 2022
Almost two years have passed since abortion is no longer legal in the event of serious fetal malformation in Poland, leading to the virtual ban on abortion. On 27 January 2021, the judgment of the Constitutional Court, which led to huge demonstrations throughout the country in the autumn of 2020, entered into force, forcing 90% of abortions, previously legal, to go “underground”. Faced with the impossibility of legalisation under the conservative government, mobilisation in the streets weakened. At least three women have died due to the refusal of care. However, all the organisations who facilitate access to abortion in Poland, including travel to other countries, are more active and contacted than ever.
Many institutions, from Human Rights Watch to the European Parliament, are concerned about the repercussions for the health of Polish women and the many refugees from Ukraine. Although the law permits abortion if there is a danger to the life of the woman, some doctors don’t know this and feel unable to act.
Pro-choice organisations are forced to adopt circumvention strategies. Federa, for example, has set up a network of gynaecologists ready to carry out abortions and to respect the opinions of psychiatrists attesting to the risk to mental health and physical health, which are also still legal reasons for abortion in the country, or a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. “We rely on a minority of professionals, but this is the only action we can take, apart from disseminating information and filing a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”
One advocate estimates she has helped about 700 women obtain a legal abortion but these do not appear in hospital records due to concerns about lack of confidentiality.
For two years, a psychiatrist who is also a member of the Federa network, has seen a new type of patient arrive. “Women who feel abandoned and suffer from symptoms of anxiety, depression, eating or sleeping disorders. For the practitioner, there is no doubt that the effects of the constitutional decree weigh heavily on the mental health of women. The law also affects their loved ones as well as the entire medical profession, because there is not much we can do to help them.”
Civil society are the only ones helping women to go abroad for abortions, especially the collective Abortion without Borders (Aborcja Bez Granic), of which Justyna Wydrzynska is a pillar. Some 40-50 women call them each month with a serious fetal malformation to get help to go to another European country for an abortion.
Abortion Without Borders helped more than 1,200 to travel for abortion in 2021. In October 2022, they revealed they had received a total of 78,000 requests for help. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 1,515 Ukrainian women have also asked for help, almost all seeking abortion pills, except 21 who were too late for pills and needed a clinic abortion. Abortion pills are easily accessed by Polish woman from outside Poland, the great majority of them being less than 12 weeks pregnant.
Thus, in spite of or perhaps because of the current law, “the taboo surrounding abortion is disappearing in Poland”. An Ipsos poll in October 2022 found that 70% of respondents said they were in favour of legalising abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, 17% more than in February 2019. This is forcing political parties to change their stance. Donald Tusk, head of Platform-Civil announced in August 2022 that their party was ready to change the law the day after the elections on autumn 2023.
SOURCE: Le Monde, by Hélène Bienvenu, 8 January 2023 + PHOTO: Agnieszka Pazdykiewicz/Sopa Images
An open letter from Swedish health professionals to the public prosecutor of Poland re Justyna’s case
The Swedish Association of Midwives, Swedish Association of Health Professionals, and Swedish Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – representing 119,200 midwives, nurses and ob/gyns in Sweden – have sent an open letter to the public prosecutor of Poland, with the support of Amnesty Sweden to write the letter.
The letter says they join the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) in calling on Poland to drop all charges against Justyna, refrain from further reprisals against her or other activists campaigning for sexual and reproductive rights, and fully decriminalise access to abortion in Poland.
The letter continues: “Ensuring access to safe and legal abortion is fundamental to protecting women’s human rights, empowering women and achieving gender equality. Denying women the right to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives is the cause and consequence of unequal power relations between men and women. Basic human rights, including the right to health, the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to autonomy in reproductive decision-making, and the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, all have an influence on ensuring the right to abortion.
“We, the signatories, believe that reproductive autonomy, including access to safe abortion services, to be a basic and non-negotiable human right of every woman and girl in the world.
“The provision of safe abortion is time-sensitive, essential health care. Safe abortion care should be available on request, universally affordable, and accessible – as early as possible and as late as necessary. Current legal and policy restrictions in Poland represent discrimination against women and girls that can have an impact on accessing other human rights, for example the right to privacy, body autonomy and integrity, and entitlements…
“The criminalisation of abortion prevents clinical best practice and the full realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights…
FULL TEXT: Open letter… 3 January 2023
Trial of Justyna Wydrzynska opens, 11 January 2023
On January 11, the fourth attempt to start the trial of Justyna Wydrzynska finally took place at the district court in Warsaw’s Praga district. The Abortion Dream Team activist faces three years in prison for giving her own set of abortion pills to someone else who needed them. Unlike the three previous dates, the man who reported her to the police for giving the pills to his wife Ania finally appeared in court to testify.
“I WOULD do it again,” Justyna Wydrzynska said at a press conference before the trial. “We also feel relieved because we have two-thirds of this process behind us. We are still waiting for Ania’s testimony. Today her violent partner testified,” she said after the hearing…
Justyna is accused of aiding an abortion. This is the first such criminal case in Poland where an activist, rather than a family member or loved one or doctor, is accused of aiding an abortion. Justyna is supported by many circles of friends and activists and institutions in Poland and abroad. A letter in her defence was written by, among others, four UN special rapporteurs for human rights and deputies of Renew Europe, a political party in the European Parliament.
A picket in support of Wydrzynska and two press conferences were held outside the court:
The picket was interrupted by an anti-abortion counter-demonstration who tried to drown the speakers with a recording of a baby crying.
The trial will resume on 6 February and 14 March 2023.
SOURCE: Oko Press, by Magdalena Chrzczonowicz, 11 January 2023 (In Polish)