On one side of the border war, on the other anti-abortion laws. For Ukrainian displaced persons in Poland, having an abortion is an obstacle course. NGOs come to their aid.
“We started receiving requests from Ukrainian refugees in Poland the first week after the start of the war in Ukraine,” says Venny Ala-Siurua, director of Women on web. For more than 15 years, this Canadian-based NGO has been helping women access abortion in countries with restrictive laws by mailing them medical abortion kits for pregnancies under 12. weeks, after a free teleconsultation with a doctor.
“Very quickly, we had to organize an assistance service in Ukrainian”, continues Venny Ala-Siurua. The Women on web hotline, which already answers in sixteen languages around the world, receives at least five calls a day from Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Since the start of the Russian invasion, around 60 of them have been able to receive abortion kits in time.
Poland, where nearly three million Ukrainians, 90% of whom are women and children, have found refuge since the start of the conflict, only authorizes the use of abortion in cases of incest, in danger of the life of the mother or of rape. It is still necessary to prove the rape within the time allowed to be able to benefit from a voluntary termination of pregnancy. “You have to present a certificate from the prosecutor attesting that you have indeed been raped. And before that, there is an investigation. Can you imagine the time it takes? Abortion is already very complicated for Polish women, while what about refugees Ukrainians… It is impossible,” laments Mara Clarke of Abortion Without Borders. “Ukrainian women are now subject to the same atrocious abortion laws as Polish women.”
Solidarity between Polish and Ukrainian women
So solidarity is organized between the women of the two neighboring countries. “Polish women are used to fighting false information circulating about abortion in their country. They are very involved in supporting Ukrainian refugees,” said Venny Ala-Siurua. This help is all the more valuable since Human Rights Watch (HRW) had warned, at the end of April, of the absence of measures “to detect abuse or identify the need for appropriate treatment”, medical or psychological “after rape or violence. sexists” in five reception centers for Ukrainian refugees visited by the NGO in Poland.
A lack of care denied by the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, which assured HRW that it had set up a gynecological helpline and did not know of any cases where Ukrainian women had been refused care at the aftermath of sexual violence.
The European Parliament also asked, at the beginning of May, the countries hosting women fleeing Ukraine to give them access to gynecological care, contraception and abortion, considering it “unacceptable that women who take refuge in EU are deprived of basic sexual and reproductive health services”.
Abortion Without Borders, which works with six partner NGOs, two of which are based in Poland, says it received 326 calls from displaced women in Poland between March 1 and May 1, and that most were able to abort safely. safety with pills. Like Women on web, it has seen requests multiply since the war in Ukraine.
A risk for Polish activists
In Poland, it is legal to give information about abortion. On the spot, the Polish partners of Abortion without borders travel in the country and carry out basic work. But if someone calls the hotline and needs to resort to an abortion, the sending of abortion drugs must be from an outside country. “Many Polish women are volunteers and do wonderful, but sometimes risky, field work,” explains Mara Clarke.
One of Poland’s abortion rights activists has just found out the hard way. A few months ago, Justyna Wydrzyńska, founder of Abortion Dream Team, a collective which campaigns against the stigmatization of abortion in the country, helped a woman fleeing an abusive relationship by giving her, in an emergency, a pack of abortion pills. The violent husband has filed a complaint and for this gesture, she faces up to three years in prison and will be tried in court in Warsaw on July 14.
“If you are Polish and you directly help a Ukrainian refugee to have an abortion, you are at great risk. What if a displaced person you are hosting asks you for help in an emergency? From when are you guilty? If I host a refugee and let her use my address to order pills, am I criminally responsible? If I drive her to a clinic? If I give her money for the bus to an abortion clinic?”, raises Mara Clarke.
In cases where the 12-week pregnancy deadline has passed, Abortion Without Borders finances trips to take care of Ukrainian displaced persons in Germany, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom, as it already did and continues to do for the Poles.
Not to mention that before the war in Ukraine, a certain number of Polish women went by their own means to Ukraine to benefit from a voluntary termination of pregnancy, which is now impossible.
Risk of Ukrainian women arriving with late pregnancies
As some Russian-occupied areas are liberated by Ukrainian forces, Mara Clarke warns: “We expect Ukrainian women in need of later abortions to start coming to us for help soon. We also expect that these numbers will skyrocket as more displaced people cross borders, settle down and discover their pregnancies.”
An observation shared by Women on web. Reachable from Ukraine, the NGO has observed “an influx of requests each time a city is liberated, as was the case in Boutcha”, specifies Venny Ala-Siurua. In Ukraine, the organization puts women in need in contact with associations and medical centers that are still operational closest to their homes. In parallel, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), of which French Planning is a member, sends abortion pills as well as supplies and equipment to make surgical abortions possible in Ukrainian hospitals.
In Paris, the Association for the Defense of Democracy in Poland (ADDP) is ready. “We contacted the public assistance of Paris hospitals, a network of private gynecology practices and family planning who assured us that the Ukrainian women sent here will be immediately taken care of”, explains Joanna Lasserre, president of the ADDP, which has welcomed and accompanied refugees in the French capital since the start of the war.
“These cases are delicate, our Polish association partners have warned us, these are women who come from the regions most affected by the violence of the Russian army and it is possible that they have suffered or have witnessed sexual violence” , warns Joanna Lasserre. The association has already prepared brochures in Ukrainian detailing the operation of the management for termination of pregnancy in France. “We want to reassure them as much as possible, we are lucky here, they will be well supported”.