April 18. 2024. 1:03

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EU institutions silent over anti-abortion conviction in Poland

The European Commission and European Parliament President stated they will not comment on the Polish court’s landmark decision to convict a woman for helping to provide another woman with abortion pills, while cross-party EU lawmakers denounced the verdict.

A Polish court sentenced Justyna Wydrzynska to eight months of community service for helping to provide abortion pills to another woman on Tuesday (14 March). Her lawyers plan to appeal the ruling.

Abortion in Poland has been de facto banned since 2020, following a ruling by the Polish Constitutional Court to restrict access to abortion to cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk. The only EU member state with stricter laws is Malta, which has a complete ban.

“What I heard yesterday is that I am guilty of helping, of having empathy, of giving a hug to another person. It is so strange to hear this. I’m not feeling guilty at all, as I said many many times, I know I did right,” Wydrzynska said at a press conference at the European Parliament on Wednesday.

While Tuesday’s ruling has been denounced by NGOs, gynaecological organisations and EU lawmakers, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and European Commission have refused to comment on Wydrzynska’s conviction.

Poland’s de facto abortion ban risks lives, says MEP

While technically allowed in some cases, abortion in Poland may as well be forbidden, putting women’s lives at risk, said Robert Biedron, EU lawmaker and leader of the Polish opposition party Nova Lewika on Thursday (17 November).

“We do not comment on individual cases,” the Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand told journalists on Wednesday. “Abortion and rights legislation is a member state competence,” he added.

An official source from Metsola’s office told EURACTIV: “We will not comment on this.”

Metsola, who is Maltese, has faced pressure to clarify her own positions on abortion.

“President Metsola stated in the very beginning that she would present the majority of the European Parliament and that she will stand for that. The majority of the European Parliament is that women should have the right to safe and legal abortion so I expect her to just conduct that point of view,” said Samira Rafaela, MEP for Renew, at the press conference on the subject on Wednesday.

“We are up against people that would not have the first thing on their list to stand up for women’s rights. But that is exactly why we formed this network cross-party, in order to be able to put the highest political pressure,” the MEP Malin Björk from The Left group added, referring to the unified front from EU lawmakers.

Pushback across the aisle

As with Renew and The Left, other EU lawmakers from different political groups took a clear position against the verdict.

“The ruling can be understood as a warning sign to women, who decide to help other women that they can also be convicted. I just hope that the sentence will not serve as a threat to others but will do the opposite – strengthen the solidarity of women in Poland,” EPP lawmaker Elżbieta Łukacijewska told EURACTIV.

“I really do hope that the determination of Polish women will help remove the ruling party Law and Justice (PIS) from power,” she added.

From the socialists’ group, MEP Maria Noichl told EURACTIV: “We are shocked by the verdict of the Polish court that sentenced Justyna Wydrzynska […] This sets a dangerous precedent in Poland and confirms that women’s rights are being crushed. That is why we call for a legal and safe abortion to become a fundamental right in the EU!”

MEP Alice Kuhnke (Greens/EFA) said at a press conference at the European Parliament: “It is so inspiring to see how the Polish women, the Polish civil society are not backing down. So who are we then not to do more?”

“We should ask Ursula von der Leyen but we should also ask the Swedish presidency. Where are the other member states? Where were their big reactions yesterday?” she added.

Activists ask more of the EU

“The EU should consider the ban to abortion as a form of gender based violence,” Anna Blus, a gender issue expert Amnesty International told EURACTIV, adding that Poland’s abortion ban is connected broader issues regarding the rule of law.

“This case demonstrates that harsher steps need to be taken. We always hear when we raise the topic of abortion, with EU institutions, that this does not fall within their remit, because it is within healthcare. So it is up to member states how they legislate on this, but you can very clearly see again, that this is not only about healthcare, and I really think that the EU institutions cannot ignore,” she added.

Marta Lempart, Polish activist and founder of All-Poland Women’s Strike, said at the press conference on Wednesday: “We will keep the fight for legal abortion and we will gain legal abortion. But we need the EU voice on judicial independence and Rule of Law in Poland.”