WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Warsaw court on Tuesday convicted a women’s rights activist for helping a victim of domestic violence access abortion pills in Poland, and sentenced her to eight months of community service.
The case of Justyna Wydrzyńska has been closely watched by human rights activists, who believe it will set a precedent in a country with some of Europe’s most restrictive abortion legislation.
They feared that the charges and a guilty verdict would create an atmosphere of repression that would intimidate women’s rights activists and discourage them from assisting women seeking abortions.
A reproductive rights organization, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said it was “appalled” that Wydrzyńska will now have a criminal record for helping a woman who was in an abusive relationship.
“We are deeply saddened by the decision and outraged by the entire process. Condemning a person for an act of empathy and compassion towards another human being is inconceivable,” said spokesperson Irene Donadio.
Ordo Iuris, an ultra-Catholic legal institute which joined the case on the side of the prosecution as an interested party, welcomed the ruling as “an important step towards real respect for the right to life of unborn children in force in Poland.”
“The defendant, as well as the entire environment of abortion activists, have been promoting abortion, including pharmacological abortion, for years, mocking the well-known law in force in Poland,” the organization said in a statement.
Prosecutors had charged Wydrzyńska with “helping with an abortion,” a crime punishable up by to three years in prison, for helping a woman in 2020 to obtain the pills.
The woman, identified in Polish media reports only as Anna, already had one child and was prevented by her partner from traveling abroad for an abortion. Her partner reportedly denounced her to the police for obtaining the pills.
In her closing statement to the court, Wydrzyńska described how she wanted to help the woman because she too had been in a relationship with an abusive husband and had an abortion at the end of her marriage in order to free herself and her three children from that situation.
She said she did not regret helping Anna.
“I am innocent,” she said. “This state is guilty and has failed me … and millions of women in this country.”
Wydrzyńska will appeal the case, according to Polish media reports. She’s the co-founder of the Abortion Dream Team, an organization that provides women seeking abortions with information and support.
Poland, a predominantly Catholic country, forbids abortion in almost all cases, with exceptions only when a woman’s life or health is endangered or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
For years, abortion was allowed in the case of fetuses with congenital defects. However, the country’s constitutional court in 2020 ruled that to be unconstitutional.
In practice, Polish women seeking to terminate their pregnancies order abortion pills or travel to Germany, the Czech Republic and other countries where the procedure is allowed. While self-administering abortion pills is legal, helping someone else is not.