On one side are the border wars, on the other are anti-abortion laws. For Ukrainian homeless in Poland, abortion is an obstacle. NGOs come to help them.
“We started receiving applications from Ukrainian refugees in Poland in the first week after the outbreak of war in Ukraine,” says Venny Ala-Siurua, Director of Women on web. For over 15 years, this Canada-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 remote consultation with a doctor.
“Quite quickly, we had to organize a help service in Ukrainian,” continues Venny Ala-Siurua. The Women on web hotline, which already responds in sixteen languages around the world, receives no fewer than five calls per day from Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, about 60 of them have managed to obtain abortion kits in time.
Poland, where nearly three million Ukrainians, 90% of whom are women and children, have sought refuge since the beginning of the conflict, allows the use of abortion only in cases of incest, at risk of the mother’s life or rape. It is still necessary to prove rape within the time allowed to benefit from a voluntary termination of pregnancy. “You have to provide a certificate from the public prosecutor certifying that you have actually been raped. And before that, there is an investigation. Can you imagine how long it would take? Abortion is already very complicated for Polish women, while what about Ukrainian refugees… It is impossible,” says Mara. Clark of Abortion Without Borders. “Ukrainian women are now subject to the same terrible 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 misinformation about abortion in their country,” said Vinny Alla Siuroa. “They are very involved in supporting Ukrainian refugees.” This assistance is considered even more valuable since Human Rights Watch warned, at the end of April, of the lack of measures to “detect abuses or determine the need for appropriate treatment”, medical or psychological “after rape or violence. Sexual biases” in five centers Reception of Ukrainian refugees visited by the NGO in Poland.
The Polish Federation of Women and Family Planning rejected the lack of care, confirming to Human Rights Watch that it had set up a gynecological helpline and was not aware of any cases in which Ukrainian women had been refused care following sexual violence.
The European Parliament, at the beginning of May, also asked countries hosting women fleeing Ukraine to give them access to gynecological care, contraceptives and abortion, considering it “unacceptable to deny basic sexual and reproductive health services to women who seek refuge in the European Union” .
Abortion Without Borders, which works with six partner NGOs, two of which are in Poland, says it received 326 calls from displaced women in Poland between March 1 and May 1, and that most of them were able to safely abort with the pills. Like Women Online, it has seen requests double since the war in Ukraine.
Danger to Polish activists
In Poland, it is legal to give information about abortion. On the spot, the Polish partners of the Abortion Without Borders program travel in the country and do essential work. But if someone calls the hotline and needs to resort to an abortion, the abortion drugs must be sent from a foreign country. “Many Polish women are volunteers and do wonderful, sometimes risky field work,” explains Mara Clark.
An abortion rights activist in Poland has found the hard way. A few months ago, Justyna Wydrzyńska, founder of the Abortion Dream Team, a collective organization against abortion stigmatization in the country, helped a woman escape an abusive relationship by giving her, in an emergency, a box of abortion pills. The violent husband filed a complaint, and because of 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 directly help a Ukrainian refugee with an abortion, you are in great danger. What if a displaced person that you host asks you for help in an emergency? How long are you guilty? If you host a refugee and let them use my address to order pills, am I criminally liable? If I Drive her to a clinic? If you give her money for the bus to an abortion clinic?” Mara Clark raises.
In cases where the 12-week gestation period has passed, Abortion Without Borders funds trips to care for homeless Ukrainians in Germany, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom, as it has already done and continues to do with Poles.
Not to mention that before the war in Ukraine, a certain number of Polish women by their own means went to Ukraine to take advantage of the voluntary termination of pregnancy, which is now impossible.
The risk of Ukrainian women arriving with late pregnancies
With some Russian-occupied areas liberated by Ukrainian forces, Mara Clark warns: “We expect Ukrainian women in need of subsequent abortions to start coming to us soon for help. We also expect these numbers to rise dramatically as more displaced people cross the border. , settled down and found out the pregnancies.”
A note shared by Women on the web. The NGO is accessible from Ukraine, and has observed “a flow of requests every time a city is liberated, as was the case in Boutcha,” Venny Ala-Siurua identifies. In Ukraine, the organization puts women in need in touch with associations and medical centers that are still operating near their homes. In parallel, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), of which France Planning is a member, is sending abortion pills as well as supplies and equipment to make surgical abortions possible in Ukrainian hospitals.
The Association for the Defense of Democracy in Poland (ADDP) is ready in Paris. Joanna Lasserre, head of the ADDP, explains who has welcomed and accompanied refugees in the French capital since the start of the war.
“These cases are sensitive, our partners in the Polish association have warned us, these are women from the regions most affected by the violence of the Russian army and likely to have experienced or witnessed sexual violence,” warns Joanna Lasser. The association has already prepared brochures in Ukrainian detailing the method of administering the termination of pregnancy in France. “We want to reassure them as much as possible, we are lucky here, and they will have good support.”