Human rights groups have condemned the conviction of a Polish activist for supplying a pregnant woman with abortion pills in a landmark trial under the country’s ultra-strict abortion laws.
A Warsaw court on Tuesday found activist Justyna Wydrzyńska guilty of assisting an abortion by supplying the drugs and sentenced her to 30 hours of community service a month for eight months, according to the judge.
The case sets a precedent within the country that already has some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in Europe, which human rights watchers believe will further repress women’s reproductive rights.
Wydrzyńska is a co-founder of the Polish activist group, Abortion Dream Team, which campaigns against abortion stigma in the country.
In a post on its website, Abortion Dream Team said Wydrzyńska provided the pills to a woman named Ania, who was married to “an abusive man” who threatened to report a kidnapping if she traveled to Germany with her 3-year-old son for an abortion.
Ania’s partner reported her to the police, who then confiscated the pills.
Wydrzyńska told the court she “would never wish for any woman to be alone in these tough situations,” adding she was “not ashamed” of her decision to assist the pregnant woman.
“I don’t feel guilty at all. I just sat there and listened as if it didn’t concern me at all. I don’t accept the verdict,” the activist told journalists outside the court room after the hearing.
The case marks “the first time in recent history in which a human rights defender in Europe has been prosecuted and convicted for assisting with access to abortion,” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a global human rights organization of lawyers and advocates.
In a statement Tuesday CRR’s senior legal advise Keina Yoshida called Wydrzyńska’s conviction “deeply concerning.”
Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard warned in a statement that the case “sets a dangerous precedent in Poland, where abortion is nearly completely banned, and offers a chilling snapshot of the consequences of such restrictive laws.”
In Poland, abortions are only permissible in if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is considered to be at risk.
The country’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has pledged to tighten abortion laws since coming into power in 2015, concentrating on removing the right of mothers to abort pregnancies in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality.
Although parliamentary opposition prevented the party from amending the law in October 2020, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal – the country’s highest court – ruled it was unconstitutional for women to terminate pregnancies in the case of fetal abnormalities, saying the exception constituted “eugenic practices.”
According to Amnesty, this ruling “eliminated one of the only remaining legal grounds for abortion under Poland’s highly restrictive law and its entry into force means that there is now effectively a near-total ban on abortion in Poland.”
In her Tuesday statement, Amnesty’s Callamard said Wydrzyńska’s conviction “marks a depressing low in the repression of reproductive rights in Poland,” adding the activist’s lawyers plan to appeal the judgment – which is not final.