Women in Poland after the abortion ban: a story of loneliness, fear and despair

Polish women now have fewer reproductive rights than when the country joined the EU in 2004. “It’s ridiculous and unacceptable”denounces the Polish MEP Robert Biedron, President of the Commission for Women’s Rights in the European Parliament. According to the UN, it will still take 300 years to achieve equality in the world. A ballast that not only has not advanced in countries like Poland, but has receded by leaps and bounds with the arrival of the ultra-conservative party Law and Justice (PiS) to power.

The Polish government, an ally of Vox in the European Parliament, approved in 2020 a law that limited the interruption of pregnancy to cases of rape, incest or risk to the health of the mother. It left out the assumptions of malformations or congenital defects of the fetus, which add up to about 98% of legal abortions. That is, it prohibited de facto abortion leaving in Poland one of the most restrictive laws on reproductive matters in the entire EU, along with malt. The controversial regulation has already left fatalities and also collateral victims.

Justyna Widrzynska she has become the first activist sentenced in Europe for trying to help a woman to abort. Anie was twelve weeks pregnant. She was a battered woman and lived with a violent partner. She tried to travel to another country to terminate the pregnancy. But he didn’t let him. Her desperation led her to contact Justyna’s NGO, Aborcyiny Dream Team, a collective that supports women financially, logistically and psychologically.

After hearing her heartbreaking and desperate situation, Justyna didn’t think twice. She mailed him a birth control pill. A practice that is a crime in all EU countries. She did not get to use it, her partner caught her and alerted the Police. The rest is history. Justyna has been sentenced to eight months of social work for trying to help her. “She’s been convicted of sending a pill that wasn’t even used. The answer to that is short: it’s called patriarchy“, denounces Biedron.

Aborcyiny Dream Team has helped in these years to more than 2,000 women to travel to other European countries to have an abortion. Belgium, France or the Netherlands are the main ones. But the Polish law also has an economic background. Not all women can afford to cross the border to terminate their pregnancy. And the desire of many of them to want an abortion is conditioned by the financial impossibility of maintaining a baby.

Natalia Broniarczyk: “Anie’s is a story of loneliness, fear, despair”

“Anie’s is a story of loneliness, fear, despair,” says Natalia Broniarczyk. After being unable to use the pill, Anie injured herself with a catheter, which led to a severe infection. She spent three weeks in the hospital, fearing that the doctors wanted to save the baby, but not her. Violence is also exercised from hospitals. She did not receive any psychological assistance. After the entry into force of the law, fear of reprisals spread to doctors, civil society and women. There was already a previous case in which a woman died because doctors took too long to terminate a pregnancy. And another in which they did not allow an abortion to a disabled minor who had been raped by her uncle.

The case in question is gathering strong national and international support, something that worries PiS, which is gambling for power in the crucial elections next autumn. “We were afraid of the reaction of public opinion. But the support has been enormous and it has surprised me. I did not expect it. People have understood why I decided to take the pill“, says Justyna, who becomes emotional, not because of her judicial journey, but when remembering Anie’s terrible story. A recent survey of the country shows that 47% of the population I would have acted just like the activist helping Anie.

What does the EU say?

In the European Union, everything from bananas to carrots have approved standards. But not women’s rights. Achieving common rights for them will be one of the priorities of the Social Democrats in the next legislature, which will start after the 2024 European elections.

Brussels, absorbed these years by the economic, war or health polycrises, has left the situation of human rights in the capitals in the background. The Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen has put itself in profile with the drifts of the Hungary of Victor Orbán or PiS in Poland. The illiberal and ultra-conservative tandem, now joined by the extreme right of Giorgia Meloni in Italy, has harshly charged against women, homosexuals or refugees with an almost sepulchral silence with all this in the community capital.

In the EU, everything from bananas to carrots have approved standards, but not women’s rights

Passing through the Belgian capital, Polish activists Justyna and Natalia They ask the European Union for a stronger hand with the drift of their Government, more support, with for example cross-border agreements between Member States, to support and help Polish women, and more forcefulness when it comes to defending human and fundamental rights within of European soil.

The judicial case of the Polish activist is part of a time of decline in the separation of the rule of law in the Eastern country. Brussels and Warsaw add up to eight years of struggle and clashes over the controversial judicial reform of PiS, which has led to the politicization of the judiciary by appointing judges by hand. The Minister of Justice and the attorney general is the same person. But Poland has also used the war in Ukraine, it is the most hawkish country in the EU with Russia and the one that hosts the most Ukrainian refugees, to appease the criticism of Brussels regarding its totalitarian drift and reduction of rights at home.

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