Poland’s ban on abortion forces many to seek help in Germany

For Zuzu*, an activist with the Berlin-based group Ciocia Basia that assists people seeking an abortion in neighbouring Poland, fielding calls is just one of many responsibilities she carries out.

That is due to the fact that women from Ukraine find themselves displaced to a country that restricts the procedure.

Between March and July, AWB received about 550 calls from women in Ukraine – a figure likely to be higher given that some women call through a Polish translator.

Zuzu, who did not want to share her full name, told Al Jazeera that while they never ask people for a reason behind seeking an abortion, many women from Ukraine are sharing their stories.

“During one of my first conversations with a woman from Ukraine through Google translate, she wrote that she was in Poland and a couple of weeks before had found out that her husband had been killed,” she said. “So in her current situation and without her husband, she would be unable to keep the pregnancy.”

“Something that we hear often from people from Ukraine is that they had wanted the pregnancies, but because they have no sense of security, stability or predictability in terms of their future, the best and most responsible thing that they can do for their existing children and families is to have an abortion,” said Kinga Jelinska, the Polish co-founder and executive director of Women Help Women, a partner AWB organisation.

Zuzu said for women from Ukraine, arriving in a country with less access to abortion than Ukraine has added to their precarious situation.

“When they ended up in Poland as refugees, they not only had to deal with the loss of their homes and livelihoods, but also their reproductive rights,” she said.

The structural racism in Poland, Zuzu said, means that refugees without Ukrainian passports, including people of colour, are treated very differently from people who are white and have Ukrainian passports.

Near-total ban

Against the backdrop of a near-total abortion ban, pregnant women losing their lives, the criminilisation of a pro-abortion activist and a new pregnancy register, Poland’s record on reproductive rights is one of the worst in Europe.

While self-managing the procedure or possessing abortion pills is not a crime, anyone who helps pregnant people with an abortion outside the two permitted grounds may face up to three years in prison.

It is a reality that prominent abortion activist and feminist Justyna Wydrzynska is currently facing.

Wydrzynska – who co-founded Abortion Dream Team, also an AWB partner, in Poland six years ago – is facing trial for “aiding and abetting abortion” after she sent pills to a pregnant woman reported to be in an abusive marriage two years ago.

Speaking to Al Jazeera ahead of her July trial date, which has since been adjourned to October, she said: “My case is the first time an abortion activist is facing trial in Europe and one of the lessons I would like other activists to take from this is that if they find themselves in a situation like mine, is that we know how to react. We have a lot of international support and organisations around us now, which wasn’t the case before.”

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