In front of the Main Station in Warsaw, ten meters from the tent where Ukrainian refugees are received with soup and sandwiches, the infamous anti-abortion van was parked on Tuesday afternoon. Both sides of the small truck are covered in a creepy picture of a month-old, dead fetus, – photoshopped or not – surrounded by a gray pile of garbage. Soon a crowd of humanitarian workers in orange vests arrives who want the vehicle away from the refugees, including pregnant rape victims by Russian soldiers. Police then come eight men strong to protect the van from him.
Will there be a redistribution of refugees across Europe?
In Poland, displaced Ukrainian women and children are not only welcomed by volunteers. Anti-abortion activists are right in front of them at the border and at the reception points. With posters of abused fetuses and flyers with texts like “abortion is the genocide of the 21st century” and “abortion kills more Ukrainians and Russians than the war in Ukraine”. The municipality of Warsaw has previously tried to start vans from Pro Foundation – the right to life (Foundation for the Right to Life) from the street, but the judge overturned that ban.
The always fierce debate about abortion in Poland has flared up again. As the number of reports of sexual violence by Russian soldiers in Ukraine increases, the question arises as to whether women who become pregnant by rape and flee to Poland can have legal and safe abortions there. At the same time, an abortion activist is on trial in Warsaw for helping a victim of domestic violence get abortion pills. It is the pills with which Ukrainian women could cause an abortion up to twelve weeks after the rape.
In principle, abortion after rape is legal in very Catholic Poland, even after the already draconian abortion law was tightened in 2020. “But no victim of sexual violence is exposed to the Polish system without being traumatized again,” says Kinga Jelinska. She and others from Abortion Without Borders help women in Poland to order abortion pills online or, if it’s too late, travel to another country for a clinical abortion. A Polish hotline that women can call for this has been called 82 times since the beginning of March by someone who speaks Ukrainian. “We are not asking if they are victims of rape. “Unlike the Polish state, we do not interfere in the reasons for abortion,” Jelinska emphasizes.
Fear of persecution
The problem, he says, is that the whole system in Poland is focused on making abortion as difficult as possible. – It’s monstrosity. Anyone who has been raped must first report it, Jelinska says, and the question is whether the State Attorney’s Office will deal with these crimes committed abroad. “Rape victims don’t have to rely on doctors either,” she said. At least two Polish women have died in the past six months from complications of a pregnancy that doctors refused to terminate for fear of prosecution.
The best short-term help for raped women is in Ukraine itself, where abortion is controversial but legal for up to 12 weeks. Before the war, pregnant women from Poland also traveled there. “Now the most important thing is to make sure that there are enough pills in Ukraine for the morning after the abortion,” says Jelinska. “And that women who have fled to Poland know they can turn to NGOs.” Polish information material has therefore been translated into Ukrainian. However, a van with photos of the fetus appears in the places where the refugees end up.
Ukrainian women share tips on how to protect yourself from rape
A version of this article also appeared in the NRC on the morning of April 15, 2022