Seven years ago, Natalia Broniarczyk had an abortion despite stringent Polish legislation against it.
Now, she is helping other women do the same and taking part in mass protests against a further tightening of an already highly restrictive law.
“I’m angry,” the 36-year-old campaigner told AFP as she prepared for the latest demonstration in Warsaw.
Protests have been raging nationwide since a ruling from the Constitutional Court on October 22 that would allow abortions only in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is at risk.
Until then, terminations had also been allowed in case of severe foetal anomalies but the court ruled that was “incompatible” with the constitution.
“The verdict made me feel like my country was spitting in my face. I broke down in tears, powerless,” Broniarczyk said.
The campaigner adds she was surprised by the timing of the verdict, as well as by the government’s warnings to stop people taking to the streets in protest.
“We expected a more restrictive law, but we did not expect it to happen right in the middle of a pandemic.
“Or that they would treat us and our lives and problems like objects. That they would ask us to stay home, to make decisions for us without us,” she said.
Broniarczyk had her abortion seven years ago because she was not ready to start a family.
“I didn’t feel financially secure and didn’t think it was the right time,” she said.
She did not qualify for a surgical abortion under the law and could not afford to go abroad for the procedure.
She tried to order abortion pills abroad but Polish customs blocked her order from going through.
Medical abortion is in a grey zone in Poland, neither authorised nor banned by law.
In the end, a Polish organisation helped her obtain the pills required.
“The woman I talked to had also had a medical abortion and told me how it had gone for her. She helped me prepare for it,” Broniarczyk said.
Today she is giving back by providing support to other women as a member of the organisation “Abortion Dream Team” — whose number is one of the ones being displayed prominently by protesters at demonstrations.
In the case of women seeking medical abortions, Broniarczyk provides them with the information required to obtain pills.
She also helps women who decide to terminate their pregnancies abroad, in countries such as Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Poland sees fewer than 2,000 legal abortions every year. Women’s groups estimate that an additional 200,000 women abort either illegally or abroad.
It took Broniarczyk a few years to be able to discuss the abortion.
But she does not regret it, saying that over time she has come to see it as a “liberating experience”.
“I understood that I could decide for myself about my life, even while living in an oppressive country, and that I could do so thanks to a support network of women,” she said.