The "Auntie Czech" collective marks a year of helping Polish women access safe abortions

As reproductive rights are called into question around the world, where does the Czech Republic stand on choice and who can undergo an abortion here?

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 01.11.2021 18:07:00 (updated on 01.11.2021) Reading time: 7 minutes

Since Poland ruled a controversial near total abortion ban on abortion last October, dozens of Polish women have been turning to neighboring countries in search of safe alternatives.

Prague-based Polish artist Jolanta Nowaczyk and like-minded activists founded the Ciocia Czesia (Auntie Czesia) initiative to help women in need of abortion come to the Czech Republic for the procedure. The initiative is commemorating one year of its existence with a fundraiser in Prague this week.

As reproductive rights are called into question around the world, not just in Poland but the U.S. where Texas lawmakers are pushing for restrictive abortion laws, what does the future hold for the Ciocia Czesia project, and could a rise in conservative lawmakers endanger the right to choose in the Czech Republic?

Some Czech hospitals still refuse to give Polish women abortions

In Poland, abortion is legal only in cases when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act, such as rape or incest, or when the woman’s life or health is at risk. Doctors face up to three years in jail for performing an illegal abortion or providing patients with pills to carry out the procedure at home.

Nowaczyk learned during Ciocia Czesia's first year that many Czech hospitals and clinics still refuse to perform abortions for Polish women.

In 2019, foreigners accounted for 5.3% of the total number of abortions (1,699 cases of abortion for foreigners).

The collective works with a few hospitals sympathetic to their cause. “We are very grateful that they cooperate with us,” says Nowaczyk.

Covid travel restrictions and rapidly closing borders across Europe also presented additional challenges for the collective's efforts in its first year as well as to those Polish women seeking to access abortion in the Czech Republic and other countries.

Abortions for foreigners in the Czech Republic: A legal grey area

Following Poland's hardline ruling on abortion, a debate arose in the Czech Republic about the legality of performing abortions on foreigners who travel here just to have the procedure.

A section of the legislative act on abortion which states “abortion shall not be performed on foreign women who are in the Czech Republic only temporarily,” caused particular controversy.

To reassure clinics and medical practitioners that performing abortions on foreigners from the EU is legal, JUDr. Barbora Vráblová helped the Ciocia Czesia collective to interpret the grey area of the law on abortions for foreigners in the Czech Republic. 

According to the latest statement issued by the Health Ministry, Polish women and EU citizens can legally undergo abortion in the Czech Republic, says Vráblová, even if they only come to have the procedure and spend only a few days here.

Jolanta Nowaczyk co-founded the Ciocia Czesia (Auntie Czesia) collective.


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“According to the official interpretation of the Ministry of Health, such an interstate agreement includes the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It provides a clear authorization for citizens of the European Union to reside in the territory of the Czech Republic,” she says.

Vráblová notes that this interpretation is also in line with the EU Parliament directive on the application of patients' rights in cross-border healthcare which states that "Patients from other Member States shall be subject to the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality."

“Dear Auntie, I need to visit you in ČR"

Since the Ciocia Czesia initiative launched last November, 645 women ("from poor to wealthy, from the left side to the right side, from big cities to villages," says Nowaczyk) have reached out to Ciocia Czesia asking for guidance or help. 

Discretion and anonymity are a significant part of the communication process. “Sometimes women write to us, 'Dear Auntie, I need to visit you in ČR' – it is just easier than writing "hey, I need an abortion,” says Nowaczyk.

Ciocia Czesia is committed to the privacy of the women – volunteers do not ask for the reasons women are seeking abortions. “We believe in their own choices,” says Nowaczyk. “But if it is more than 12 weeks, they need to have confirmation that the fetus is damaged.”

Candles in signs outside the Polish Embassy in Prague / photo via
Candles in signs outside the Polish Embassy in Prague / photo via Natalia Różycka

More than a dozen Polish volunteers like Nowaczyk continue to support Poles through different stages – whether with a simple consultation, helping them obtain pills to use at home, or organizing a trip to the Czech Republic for an abortion. Similar collectives exist in Germany and Austria.

“After women reach out to us and describe the situation they are in, we tell them which options they have,” says Nowaczyk.

“Early medical abortion is the treatment method for pregnancy of up to 10 weeks. In case a woman qualifies for this treatment, we refer them to Women on Web or Women Help Women organizations who send the pills by post. The other option is surgical abortion; it is a matter of personal preference."

"Women who are past the 10-week period need surgical abortions, which they can get in the Czech Republic or other European countries,” she adds. Apart from consultation and assistance with the practicalities of the abortion process, the group also connects Poles to psychological support groups.

Protest against anti-abortion law in Wroclaw, Poland (photo: iStock / irontrybex
Protest against anti-abortion law in Wroclaw, Poland (photo: iStock / irontrybex

Reproductive rights in the Czech Republic: present and future

According to the European Abortion Policies Atlas, 2021, legal frameworks for accessing abortions vary to a great extent among European countries. Abortion technically remains a crime in 14 of Europe's 52 countries. 

In Slovakia, as many as a third of all hospitals and medical facilities refuse to provide legal abortions, at the instigation of representatives of local civic initiatives and Christian churches, a recent study found. New legislation intending to support pregnant women, now being discussed, would restrict access to abortions.

Abortion law in the Czech Republic|Terminating a pregnancy is legal in the Czech Republic on any grounds provided that the pregnant woman requests it in writing by the 12th week of pregnancy. It is also legal (with a physician's recommendation) until the 24th week of pregnancy if genetic testing shows a high probability that the child will have a serious handicap. An abortion may be carried out at any time during the pregnancy should grave problems with the fetus be discovered.

The abortion pill has been legal in the Czech Republic since 2014. For many women, it is a less invasive method for inducing miscarriage although the registration of the pill was opposed by the anti-choice groups. Abortion is not covered by health insurance unless the mother's life is in danger. Women up to the age of 18 must obtain signed permission from a guardian.

In general, the Czech Republic cannot be considered progressive when it comes to women's rights given its low ranking in the gender equality index as well as its refusal to ratify the Istanbul Convention to prevent and combat violence against women.

Despite the conservative inclinations of many government members and limited achievements in gender equality, Vráblová says there is no reason to believe reproductive rights may come into question in the Czech Republic any time soon. 

She noted that unlike Poland, which ranks high in religious commitment, the Czech Republic is a largely atheist country, and thus few socio-political issues are affected by religious beliefs.

Though several attempts have been made to open the legislative act to the amendment, the law has remained intact since 1986, says Vráblová.

“Some, including the Ministry of Health, are afraid once the act is open, the conservative groups may use the momentum to amend the part of the law that guarantees the quite liberal/wide access to abortions.”

The European Parliament held a hearing in March 2021 looking into the issue of foreign interference on the financing of anti-abortion/anti-choice organizations in the EU that undermine sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women. 

Anti-gender groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in total in Europe since 2019, said Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF).

Evelyn Regner, chair of the committee on women’s rights and gender equality, called the growing financial flows originating from outside the EU – from Russia, the US, and elsewhere – to European anti-choice organizations, which actively work towards undermining sexual education and attack women’s right to decide over their own bodies "unacceptable."

Czech support 'overwhelming'

Since the beginning of the initiative in November 2020, the Ciocia Czesia collective has been running a fundraiser for women unable to afford an abortion abroad.

“We financially supported 26 abortions which equates to CZK 230,000 CZK,” says Nowaczyk. The group also raised funds in its first year through a successful t-shirt sales campaign.

T-shirt fundraiser
Ciocia Czesia t-shirts. Photo via Ciocia Czesia Facebook.

“The support from Czechs was especially overwhelming while it seems that Polish people might have been burned out from the debates and activities surrounding the abortion ban.”

On November 6, the group will host its "Fight Like a Girl" fundraiser in Prague in an effort to continue its psychological and financial support for the hundreds of women seeking safe and legal abortion in the Czech Republic.

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