In an unprecedented case, an activist who helped a woman get a termination faces three years in prison in Poland under its new draconian anti-abortion laws.

Pro-Abortion Activist Faces Prison in Poland

People protesting outside of the court in Warsaw on April 8, 2022. Photo: BIRN/Claudiia Ciobanu.

The trial of Justyna Wydrzynska, an activist with the Polish women’s group Aborcyjny Dream Team (Abortion Dream Team), began on Friday morning in Warsaw. The 47-year-old, a mother of three, has been charged with “assisting in an abortion” and faces up to three years in prison.

This is the first time an activist has been charged with helping someone get an abortion since the right-wing government oversaw a virtual ban on abortion in 2021, in a case which feminist groups worry could negatively impact on women’s willingness to seek out help when they need to terminate a pregnancy.

Abortion is now illegal in Poland in all cases except rape and incest or a threat to the mother’s life. Partners and doctors have been prosecuted before for assisting with abortions, but the case against Wydrzynska, from the most well-known network of activists helping women, is understood by many to be a political one, pursued by the hardline Prosecutor General (and Minister of Justice) Zbigniew Ziobro in order to make an example out of the activist.

“I have a lump in my throat and tightness in my stomach,” Wydrzynska wrote in a message to her supporters posted online by her colleagues on April 4. “I am nervous, but who wouldn’t be in this situation? I’m facing charges for the first time.”

“The next few days will be hard for me,” she continued. “But I go in front of the court with peace in my heart. I know that I did the right thing, because supporting abortion is a good thing, if thanks to me someone found peace.”

Wydrzynska was charged after the husband of the woman wanting an abortion filed a complaint with the police against the activist. According to Wydrzynska and her colleagues, the woman contacted them in 2020 seeking to terminate a pregnancy, as she was in an abusive relationship. The activists sent her medicines by post, though it’s not clear whether the woman used them.

Some 100 people protested outside the court in Warsaw on Friday morning in support of Wydrzynska.

In the year and a half since the Constitutional Tribunal pretty much closed the door to legal abortion in Poland with a ruling in October 2020, including when the foetus is severely sick or malformed, Aborcyjny Dream Team say they’ve been getting as many as 300 calls a day from women wanting help or just checking whether they can get help if needed. The group says it assisted over 1,500 women to travel abroad for an abortion in the past year.

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