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A woman convicted in Poland for aiding abortion says she did what was right


Poland's abortion laws are some of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is almost entirely illegal. Helping someone end a pregnancy can lead to jail time. One year ago, we first heard from an activist in Poland - the first woman to face criminal charges under Polish abortion law for helping a woman in an abusive relationship obtain abortion pills.


JUSTYNA WYDRZYNSKA: She was begging us, please help me somehow.

SHAPIRO: Well, this week, Justyna Wydrzynska received her sentence. A judge in Warsaw gave her eight months of community service. And she joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WYDRZYNSKA: Thank you. Thank you for invitation.

SHAPIRO: Well, for more than a year, you've been living with uncertainty, waiting to learn your fate. The judge could have sent you to prison for years. How are you feeling at this moment?

WYDRZYNSKA: Yes, it was a very, very tough year. I've been in a courtroom for six times. After the verdict, I'm so angry. The judge said I am guilty of help. I don't agree with this. Nobody should be criminalized for giving help.

SHAPIRO: You told the judge that you do not regret providing the abortion pills to this woman. What made you decide to say that?

WYDRZYNSKA: After the hearing in February, I got a letter from Anya, the person who I sent the pills.

SHAPIRO: And Anya is a pseudonym, we should say.

WYDRZYNSKA: Yes. In this letter, she wrote that I was one of the people who gave a real help to her in a situation when everybody turned their backs away. So she didn't receive help from the siblings. She didn't receive help from the doctors. This is why - this is the only verdict I'm taking under the consideration.

SHAPIRO: I'm surprised to hear you say you're angry because some people might feel relief at being sentenced to community service rather than prison time.

WYDRZYNSKA: I wasn't judged in a fair way.

SHAPIRO: What do you think being judged in a fair way would have looked like?

WYDRZYNSKA: Not guilty - because there was no abortion done and, really, for helping other person in a situation where the person's really asking you and begging you for help. In this situation, you had no other choice than just help.

SHAPIRO: Do you intend to continue your activism now? And if you do, could that have legal consequences?

WYDRZYNSKA: I still do it. Even if I should leave the country, no, I will never stop. In the same way, I know that there is thousands of people who'd do the same for me. And I'm so proud of my colleagues from Abortion Without Borders, who support people with money, even, to travel abroad.

SHAPIRO: As you know, in the United States, abortion access has been dramatically restricted over the last year. Do you have any thoughts, from where you sit in Poland, about what you see happening in our country?

WYDRZYNSKA: I know there are lots of activists who do the same thing we do - so supporting people with information, support people with money. And I know that it could happen. Even a person in the United States, somebody could be criminalized because of helping other persons. So let's learn the lessons we got from my court case.

SHAPIRO: What is that lesson?

WYDRZYNSKA: We know who we can count on. Being in this close relationship with the organizations who fight for the human rights - these are our aliars (ph), and we should be really close to each other, really. Like - because in my case, the strength comes from network. I feel much, much braver because I know that I have people - a really huge amount of people - who supports.

SHAPIRO: How have people in Poland responded to your case and to your verdict? Have you become a nationally recognized figure?

WYDRZYNSKA: Yes, it happened - to be recognized because of this, and...

SHAPIRO: Recognized in a positive way, a negative way or both?

WYDRZYNSKA: Yes. Yes, absolutely, in a positive way because just before the last hearing, they asked people - would you do the same? - what I did. And almost 50% of people answered, yes, I would help an abortion in a situation when the person would live in a violent relationship. And 64% of young people between 18 and 25 age, they said the same. So this is a positive way of seeing this situation, and I'm so, so happy because of this because I know we help each other. I mean, I hear this every day - stories from Abortion Without Borders' helpline. Colleagues call to get information for their friends. Parents call for the information for their kids. And partners call and ask how to help their partners. So we know it happens every day. Every day, around 20 people asking for help for other person they can find in a situation like I was.

SHAPIRO: Justyna Wydrzynska is a member of a Polish group called Abortion Dream Team. Thank you for speaking with us.

WYDRZYNSKA: Thank you, and good day to all of you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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