A woman in Poland is on trial for helping another woman access abortion care – and experts say her experience could foreshadow what could become more common in the US as more States criminalize abortion.
Justyna Wydrzyńska, 47, faces up to three years in prison for giving another woman abortion pills – oral medications that stop and help the body through an unwanted pregnancy. The pills are classified as “essential medicines” by the World Health Organization, and studies show they are safer than Viagra and Tylenol.
In the United States, medical abortions account for more than half of all abortion procedures.
Wydrzyńska is a volunteer with Abortion Without Borders, a network of advocacy groups across Europe that helps people get abortion care. In 2020, she tells TODAY Parents, she was working on the organization’s hotline when she received a call from a woman who said she was a victim of domestic violence. The appellant was pregnant and wanted an abortion, but she said her husband would not allow it and threatened to call the police if she traveled for a legal abortion in another country.
In Poland, abortion is only allowed in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the pregnant person is in danger.
Wydrzyńka said she saw herself in this woman’s story. She told TODAY Parents she had abortion pills herself and immediately decided to give them to the woman. She then sent him the pills she had in her medicine cabinet.
“She was scared and she didn’t know what to do,” Wydrzyńka told TODAY Parents via Zoom. “I felt this was the time for me to offer the pills. So I did. It was a very simple decision. I knew how difficult it was for her, to be in this violent situation at home. So I sympathized with her, and I just did it.”
Related: What Mothers Who Provide Abortion Care Think About Their WorkWydrzyńka knew of the risks, but said she was unaware that the woman’s husband was monitoring her communication. He called the police, who confiscated the woman’s pills before she could take them and then searched Wydrzyńka’s home. In 2021, she was charged under Polish law with “aiding an abortion” and “possession of drugs without authorization for the purpose of introducing them to the market”.
“I did it because I thought no one should be pregnant in a situation they didn’t want to be in,” Wydrzyńka said. “We are not incubators for anyone. She was forced to continue with her pregnancy, and no one should be in this situation. No one.”
Wydrzyńka attended his first hearing on April 8 in Warsaw, Poland. Her case has been adjourned again to July 14 and she faces up to three years in prison if found guilty. She says what is happening to her should serve as a warning to people across the United States, especially as more states pass anti-abortion laws and the Supreme Court prepares to rule on a ban. of the 15-week abortion in Mississippi which, if upheld, will essentially upset Roe against Wade.
“Our legal regime does not criminalize women who seek abortion themselves,” said Kinga Jelińska, a member of the Abortion Dream Team, a Polish advocacy group launched in 2016 and a sub-group of Abortion Without Borders, at TODAY Parents. “Instead, they criminalize everyone who helps in order to impact all support systems.”
Many new US abortion laws work the same way. In Texas, the still-enforced 6-week abortion ban has empowered citizens to sue anyone they believe helped someone seek abortion care. Similar laws have been passed in Idaho and Oklahoma, and others are pending in a number of conservative states.
After the Kentucky Legislature overturned Governor Andy Beshear’s veto, the state enacted a series of anti-abortion measures that effectively banned all abortions, making Kentucky the first state in decades without access to abortion care. legal abortions.
Conservative Missouri lawmakers have introduced a bill that, if enacted, would make it illegal for people to “aid or abet” others receiving abortion care, including those who help people to travel out of state to have an abortion.
“It’s a cautionary tale for the United States,” Jelińska said. “It’s really a movement. It’s in Latin America. It’s in Asia. It’s in Africa. It’s here in Poland. And Justyna is the first prominent public activist facing trial in Europe. , because that is exactly how we have to fight. We fight for every person, including the one in the United States. And we know full well that this is happening in the United States as well.
The United States has groups similar to Abortion Without Borders that help people get abortion care, and even help those who experience a miscarriage. There has been a recent increase in the United States in the number of people undergoing “self-directed” abortions. The Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline offers confidential medical support to people self-managing an abortion or miscarriage; the Repro Legal Helpline offers confidential legal information. Additionally, there are abortion funds in many places that aim to help people get care.
Related: New Tennessee bill would allow families and friends of rapists to sue if victims have abortions
In 2013, a report published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law studied 413 cases from 1973 to 2005 in which women were sued for the results of their pregnancies. The study found that 71% of the women sued were low-income and 52% were black women.
Additionally, the National Advocates for Pregnant Woman, a nonprofit health and civil rights advocacy group, has tracked 1,254 cases of women being sued over pregnancy outcomes since Roe v Wade was legalized.
In 2013, a 33-year-old woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison after miscarrying and leaving fetal remains in a dumpster. In 2021, an Oklahoma woman was arrested after she suffered a miscarriage and admitted to using methamphetamine during her pregnancy. She was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to four years in state prison.
And this year, a woman in Texas was arrested and charged with murder for allegedly undergoing a medical abortion. She has since been released from prison and the charges have been dropped.
Jelińska says Wydrzyńka’s situation will also influence efforts to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war from Russia. Several reports of Russian soldiers raping Ukrainian women have surfaced. The New York Times reported that Russian forces kept a group of women and girls in a basement in Bucha for 25 days while they raped them, and according to Ukraine’s official human rights ombudsman, Lyudmyla Denisovanine, nine of them are now pregnant.
Jelińska says the Abortion Without Borders hotline has seen an influx of calls from Ukrainians asking for help in getting abortion care.
“We have already had at least 45 people calling from Ukraine, requiring abortions,” Jelińska explained. “We are proud to say that we have not turned anyone away due to insufficient funding to get people to another location.”
Related: What is a medical abortion? 5 people share their experiences
Wydrzyńka said she was scared of what was to come – when asked if she was scared of going to jail and leaving her children behind, she broke down crying holding her face between her hands.
“It’s so unfair,” she sobbed.
Still, she said she doesn’t regret her decision and has a message for anyone else facing a similar situation.
“We have to help others, regardless of the consequences,” Wydrzyńka said. “There are many people in situations like mine who will help you. You won’t be alone. I’m not alone. I’m glad I’m not alone. So be brave and don’t be afraid.”