Polish activist found guilty in abortion case to appeal sentence

Justyna Wydrzynska was convicted on Tuesday, three years after providing a woman with abortion pills.

Justyna Wydrzynska, an abortion rights activist, reacts after an adjourned hearing in court, in Warsaw, Poland, October 14, 2022
Justyna Wydrzynska, centre, was found guilty of facilitating an abortion [File: Kuba Stezycki/Reuters]

A Polish activist found guilty of facilitating an abortion has told Al Jazeera that she plans to appeal her sentence in a case that is testing the nation’s strict abortion laws.

On Tuesday, a court in the capital, Warsaw, convicted Justyna Wydrzynska three years after she sent the pills to a woman who was reportedly in an abusive relationship.

Alongside eight months of community service, she was handed a fine, and will now have a criminal record.

Poland has some of the most restrictive rules on abortion in Europe; terminating a pregnancy is allowed only in cases of incest, rape, or if the mother’s health is at risk. Helping someone to end their pregnancy is also outlawed.

But Wydrzynska, the co-founder of Abortion Dream Team, a grassroots initiative that has been working to support women seeking abortions in Poland for the past seven years, maintained her innocence.

Speaking to Al Jazeera by phone shortly after the verdict, the 48-year-old said she had hoped her final speech – in which she drew on her experience of domestic violence, abortion and social work – would have had an impact.

“I thought the judge may consider some of what I had said in the trial, so it’s absolutely demoralising to hear such a verdict. But I’m innocent and I plan to appeal the verdict.”

Kinga Jelinska, the Polish co-founder and executive director of Women Help Women, a partner organisation, has accompanied Wydrzynska on hearings following the initial charge in late 2021.

She said: “We think that this is a political sentence. The explanation of the court was awful and pathetic, and showed no respect towards human rights. Polls show that the majority of people in Poland support the right to abortion. With this ruling, the court and the government show how out of touch they are with the needs of society.”

The trial, the first of its kind against a reproductive rights activist in Europe, has drawn international condemnation from human rights groups as well as politicians, and there have been concerns about its implications within the context of the Roe vs Wade ruling in the United States.

The maximum sentence in Poland for facilitating an abortion is three years in prison.

Irene Donadio, spokesperson of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network in Brussels, condemned the verdict.

That Wydrzynska received a relatively light sentence was politically motivated, she said, a move to avoid any unrest and reverberations in elections later this year.

“I think it’s very important to realise what kind of incredible, brave and powerful person Wydrzynska is,” she said. “The case has exposed the ugly side of the system and how desperate the state and the judiciary are when it comes to attacking women’s rights.

“But on the other hand, it has highlighted the level of solidarity that exists around the issue, and I think that it will be clear for women that they are not alone because there are other women brave enough to fight for this freedom.

“The case has also revealed the hypocrisy of the system to many people, including men, because it is clearly inhumane.”

Source: Al Jazeera