Poland’s Near-Total Abortion Ban Threatens Ukrainian Refugees


A professional-abortion protester holds an image of a deceased lady named Agnieszka, throughout a protest in entrance of the Regulation and Justice (PiS) ruling celebration workplace in opposition to the abortion ban in Krakow, Poland, on Jan. 26, 2022. Agnieszka, a 37-year-old lady pregnant with twins, died on Jan. 25. After certainly one of her fetuses died on Dec. 23, she was made to hold it for over every week whereas docs waited to see what occurred to its still-living twin.
(Beata Zawrzel / NurPhoto through Getty Photos)

A warfare has been waging in Europe since Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Many Ukrainians have stayed in the country to fend off the assault, whereas others have fled to neighboring international locations, particularly Poland, the primary nation of arrival for refugees from Ukraine. As soon as there, refugee ladies—together with those that have skilled sexual violence at the hands of Russian soldiers—are struggling to access abortions.

For the reason that begin of the invasion, over 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland, the nation with a few of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, in addition to sensible obstacles that make abortion practically unimaginable to entry.

In October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled abortions in instances of fetal well being points have been unconstitutional, which represented roughly 98 p.c of authorized procedures throughout the nation. This resolution propelled the already conservative government of Poland towards a near-total abortion ban, sparking protests throughout the nation earlier this yr. 

Presently, abortion is permitted for as much as 12 weeks, however solely when the pregnancy is the result of a crime (resembling rape or incest) or when the lifetime of the pregnant particular person is underneath risk. Nonetheless, suppliers say abortions for rape victims are virtually by no means carried out. In accordance with Poland’s well being ministry, the nation has by no means allowed greater than three abortions per yr for pregnancies ensuing from rape. These looking for an abortion have to prove they were raped with a licensed letter from a public prosecutor.

Krystyna Kacpura, president of the Federation for Girls and Household Planning (Federa), a Polish reproductive rights group, said to obtain the licensed letter from a public prosecutor, particulars such because the time, date and placement are needed. “For Ukrainian ladies who have been raped by Russian troopers, that is unimaginable. And anyway, lots of them are so traumatized that they won’t talk about it in any respect—not even with us.”

Thus, abortion is nearly impossible inside Poland. 

In crises such because the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ladies disproportionately face sexual and gender-based violence. Though the precise variety of instances involving sexual abuse within the Russian-Ukrainian battle is unknown, Matilda Bogner, a U.N. human rights investigator in Ukraine, said there are “dozens of allegations,” and plenty of of those experiences occurred in “the areas round Kyiv the place Russian forces have been after which left.” As of early June 2022, U.N. officers obtained greater than 120 reports of rape, although they imagine the quantity to be a lot increased. 

In response to this humanitarian emergency, United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officers are demanding refugees in Poland have entry to reproductive rights, together with abortion. This echoes the decision made by some Polish politicians earlier this yr for the nationwide authorities to guarantee all refugees the fitting to abortion in a public hospital. Whereas the eye of the worldwide neighborhood is on abortion entry in Poland, no change has but been made to ease restrictions for Ukrainian refugees. Because the warfare continues, the necessity for emergency contraception and abortion providers will proceed to develop exponentially. 

Within the meantime, native figures have discovered methods to help abortion seekers. Ukrainian gynecologist Dr. Myroslava Marchenko refers sufferers to worldwide organizations resembling Women Help Women or Women on Web, the place they will order abortion capsules by mail. And activists in Poland have shaped networks to help abortion seekers by way of cellphone hotlines. Oxsana Lytvynenko, a Ukrainian who has lived in Poland for 18 years, said her role is “not solely a Ukrainian language translator, but in addition a Polish actuality translator.” Lytvynenko works as a pro-choice translator for newly arrived refugees making an attempt to navigate their new authorized panorama, as Poland’s stance on abortion is far more conservative than in Ukraine

However helping abortion seekers comes with many dangers and penalties together with prolonged jail sentences. Justyna Wydrzyńska, an activist and member of a Polish initiative known as the “Abortion Dream Workforce,” is awaiting trial in Warsaw for her efforts to safe abortion entry. If convicted, she faces as much as three years in jail. She is the primary abortion-rights activist in Poland to face felony fees and is not sure of her future within the Polish authorized system. The upcoming outcomes of her trial forces activists in Poland to ponder their future within the nation in addition to the very best path to proceed their important work. 

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