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“I was in the autumn of 2020, when the decision of the Constitutional Court to de facto ban abortion in Poland, terribly upset and needed to do something.
A young short-haired blonde comes to a café in Hybernská. “Is this a table in the corner?” I’m sitting almost in the middle of the room, where I moved later. But then he laughs amicably and offers me a poke.
A year and a half ago, Katarzyna Byrtek co-founded the Ciocia Czesia (Teta Česko). An aunt who doesn’t judge women who decide to end a pregnancy for whatever reason and helps them to do it safely.
She thus responded to the tightening of the abortion law in neighboring Poland. Since last January, abortion has been virtually illegal. Thousands of Poles are looking for help abroad, also in the Czech Republic. Since the beginning of the year alone, more than 400 people have sought the support of the team. There are thousands of people all the time.
“She’s an Aunt you don’t want to come to as a mom. You know that they will make you tea and help you, “Katarzyna describes the essence of her activity. “Journalists often want to see us at work. But it looks like we’re sitting at a computer writing e-mails, “she laughs and comes across my request.
But the Internet and e-mail are their main working tools. Anyone can write to their encrypted e-mail address asking for help or a question. Until the twelfth week of pregnancy, Tetě Česko recommends an abortion pill, which Poles can order by mail home. In the case of more complicated cases, those after the first trimester, they also help to mediate the necessary hospital intervention.
The abortions themselves are not so traumatic. It is more of a relief for women, their huge problem has been solved. Rather, the trauma has to deal with some strangers abroad because their own country will not help them.
“They don’t go all the way to Prague, most of them are Ostrava, which is closest to Poland. We already have a whole guide with a map of how to get to the hospital, where they can have coffee and so on, “describes the young Polka.
Katarzyna has lived in the Czech Republic for about fifteen years, graduated from university and works for the Polish edition of Heroine magazine. But he also performs in burlesque, which is a magnificent dance-acting show. “I teach, but the lessons are also about self-perception and self-confidence,” he describes.
But our meeting in Hybernská has a reason. A few days ago, people from Ciocio Czesia attended a workshop for activist groups. There they dealt with what they had accomplished in that year and a half and what had failed.
Photo: Eva Soukeníková, Connexionblog
Katarzyna Byrtek, one of the tabernacles of the Ciocia Czesia collection.
“It turned out that we really succeeded in getting a group of total strangers together in the beginning, and we’re still working and successful,” he says. They work voluntarily, in their spare time. They struggled the most to invent the system so that it would really help, but so that they would not go crazy themselves. Now they work shifts, but everyone keeps the cases that contact him on his shift and beyond.
“The abortions themselves are not so traumatic. It is more of a relief for women, their huge problem has been solved. Rather, the trauma means that they have to solve the problem with some foreign people abroad, because their own country will not help them, “Katarzyna is angry.
He doesn’t collect women’s stories and doesn’t ask them anything unnecessary. “We never deal with them with anything they don’t write or tell us. But there are exceptions. Now we were helping a woman who was in a very complicated relationship, had no one to deal with, and was unable to orient herself. A colleague went to the border for her, which is not a standard at all, but we wanted to help her, she cried all the way, “says a recent experience.
Legal uncertainties still persist
Not so long ago, it was being discussed in the Czech Republic whether it was actually legal for Poles to perform abortions in our country. According to the Abortion Act of 1986, foreign women who stay in the Czech Socialist Republic only temporarily are not allowed to perform abortions.
After the elections, we understood from the discussions in the corridors of the Chamber of Deputies that not only would the amendment not pass the new Chamber of Deputies, but at the same time amendments would be submitted to it, which would, on the contrary, tighten the law.
Vaclav Laska, senator (SEN 21)
However, a decree of the Ministry of Health was added to this, which provides for exceptions for foreigners with temporary residence and for foreigners who have a residence permit within the framework of interstate agreements. And that is the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. According to this interpretation, Poles as citizens of the European Union can therefore legally undergo an abortion in the Czech Republic.
However, the original interpretation of the 1986 law was supported by the Czech Medical Chamber, which officially warned medical facilities about the possibility of legal consequences. And she also called for an amendment to the abortion law.
Red lightning has become a symbol of defiance against strict abortion laws.
The Senate took this initiative a year ago. In a joint bill submitted by Senator Václav Láska (Senator 21) and other senators, he wanted to strengthen the legal certainty of doctors who perform abortions for foreign women.
“We withdrew the proposal this year,” said Senator Vaclav Laska. “After the elections, we understood from the discussions in the corridors of the Chamber of Deputies that not only would the amendment not pass the new Chamber of Deputies, but at the same time amendments would be submitted to it, which would tighten the law,” he added.
Thus, some legal uncertainty persists. Although Katarzyna Byrtek says that she no longer encounters the problems today, last year the doctors were not really sure about the interpretation. “It simply came to our notice then. We are now following the decree of the Ministry of Health, “he adds.
The Ministry of Health List of Reports has confirmed that no changes concerning the decree, but also possible amendments to the law, are not planned. Nevertheless, in several randomly sought-after gynecological clinics that provide artificial abortions for women, doctors refer to the original 1986 letter.
“We also wondered if we shouldn’t go into legal action anymore, but we were told not to unnecessarily make it worse,” Katarzyna concludes.