Docked Forever? Women on Waves ‘Abortion Boat’ Is No More

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Docked Forever? Women on Waves ‘Abortion Boat’ Is No More

Amie Newman

The so-called "abortion ship", a floating campaign for the abortion pill in international waters, may be anchored forever with a change in Dutch law and a growing opposition, worldwide, to abortion.

The Dutch "abortion boat" run by the organization Women on Waves (WoW) has announced it will anchor, possibly permanently.

After ten years of sailing through international waters, informing women about the abortion pill and distributing it through their organization, WoW has docked the ship, cancelling all of its upcoming trips . It’s a sign of the times. Rebecca Gompert, founder of WoW and from whose expertise and passion the ship was borne, says that opposition to abortion is only growing worldwide and that, in fact, Obama’s leadership has only empowered anti-abortion forces:

"In the
US, anti-abortion groups have multiplied their activity since Obama became
president. Before Bush was their good friend and they were able to do much
the legal way. Now that Obama is protecting women’s right to chose the
number of threats and cases of harassment has tripled. And those American
clubs are training their allies in Europe. We see a lot of aggression now at
protests in countries like Poland and Ireland." 

The Dutch government, in May, changed their abortion laws to serious effect. The government decided to "limit their distribution of abortion pills to specially approved clinics only", according to an article in the international publication, NRC Handelsblad. WoW had received special permission from the former Dutch Health Minister but now they are being denied as a distribution point for the pills. 

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The Health Inspection Office is even going so far as to ask the public prosecutor’s office to prosecute WoW for distributing the abortion pill to women off the coast of Spain in 2008. This latest development has also forced WoW into an extremely challenging position, needing to defend itself and build a case. 

Gomperts said that in light of the current obstacles, docking the boat was the only option right now:

"We had planned to campaign this year with a yacht off the
coasts of Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Our legal system states
that what is allowed under Dutch law is also allowed in international
waters. So women boarding our ship did not have to fear prosecution. Now
they risk prosecution in their own country if the Dutch health inspection
rules that we are working outside the law. That’s a risk we couldn’t take,
so we had to call off the campaign." 

Gomperts has always seen the WoW ship as "righting an enormous wrong." According to the article,

At one point Gomperts envisaged an entire fleet of abortion boats registered
in the Netherlands. They would anchor in international waters and carry out
abortions, distribute medication and train local staff. For Gomperts it was
her way to right an enormous wrong: the 20 million women who undergo illegal
abortions every year worldwide, and especially the 68,000 women who die as a
result each year – a plane crash a day. 

She is far from resigned though. She makes sure, in the article, to also discuss her project, Women on Web, a web site where women from those places around the world where abortion is illegal can request and receive the abortion pill, in the mail.

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