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Activist convicted for helping domestic violence victim obtain abortion pills in landmark Polish case

By Christine Fernando, USA TODAY,

2023-03-15

A Polish human rights activist was convicted Tuesday in a Warsaw court for helping a domestic violence victim access abortion pills in a case that may have reverberations in U.S. states with similar restrictions.

Justyna Wydrzyńska was sentenced to eight months of community service in the case that has been closely watched globally. The case prompted outrage from abortion access advocates who worry it could set a precedent in Poland, which has among Europe's most restrictive abortion laws.

Wydrzyńska, who is co-founder of the Abortion Dream Team, which helps support people seeking abortions, will appeal the decision, according to global human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

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What was Wydrzyńska accused of?

Wydrzyńska was charged with "helping with an abortion," which can be punishable with up to three years in prison.

She is accused of helping a woman obtain the pills in 2020. The woman already had one child, and her partner was preventing her from traveling abroad to get abortion care.

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Activist, Justyna Wydrzyńska sits at the court in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday March 14, 2023. A court on Tuesday convicted Wydrzyńska for helping a victim of domestic violence access abortion pills in Poland, and sentenced her to eight months of community service. Associated Press

What are Poland's abortion laws?

A largely Catholic country, Poland outlaws abortion in almost all cases with exceptions for when a person's life is endangered or for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. In 2020, the country's constitutional court ruled allowing abortions in the case of fetuses with congenital defects was also unconstitutional.

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Wydrzyńska says 'I am innocent' in response to sentence

During the sentencing, Wydrzyńska described wanting to help a woman obtain the pills because she had also had an abusive husband and got an abortion at the end of the marriage in order to free herself and her three children from that situation.

Wydrzyńska 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.”

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https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=48rYXZ_0lJcoLZI00
Activist, Justyna Wydrzyńska,center, speaks to reporters in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday March 14, 2023. A court on Tuesday convicted Wydrzyńska for helping a victim of domestic violence access abortion pills in Poland, and sentenced her to eight months of community service. Associated Press

Anti-abortion group reacts to case

Ordo Iuris, a Catholic legal institute that joined the case on the prosecution's side as an interested party, called 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.

Abortion rights advocates react to case

Supporters of abortion rights protested the sentence outside the courtroom and in demonstrations around the world.

The Center for Reproductive Rights said it marked "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."

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Keina Yoshida, senior legal adviser at the center, called the conviction "deeply concerning."

"Her prosecution sets a dangerous precedent for the targeting of human rights defenders in Poland who are working to advance reproductive rights and challenge Poland’s de facto ban on abortion," Yoshida said in a statement.

Case has resonance in post-Roe v. Wade United States

The case may have reverberations in the U.S. after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that had protected abortion rights at the national level for decades. Now, helping people access abortion pills remains a legal gray area in many states where abortion has been banned in almost all cases.

In a similar Texas lawsuit filed this week , three women in Texas are being sued for wrongful death by a man who claims they helped his ex-wife access medication abortion.

The case in Poland "offers a chilling snapshot of the consequences of such restrictive laws," the global human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern .

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Activist convicted for helping domestic violence victim obtain abortion pills in landmark Polish case

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