dr rebecca gomperts

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, Founder, WomenonWaves.org

- By Claude Berube

In many places of the world, abortions are illegal and highly taboo.  One such place is Morocco, yet approximately 600 to 800 women still have an abortion every day.

While wealthy women can afford safe abortion access, women of low socio-economic-status must often resort to unsafe methods that can result in morbidity and death.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe abortion methods cause 13% of pregnancy-related deaths.

Dutch NGO Women On Waves was founded 10 years ago by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts with the aim to prevent unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies by providing sexual health services including early medical abortions with pills, on board a Dutch ship outside the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal.

MALI (Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms) has invited the Dutch organization to visit Morocco with their abortion ship which under Dutch law, can provide women with safe, legal, medical abortions until 6.5 weeks of pregnancy.

Women on Waves views itself as advocating for women’s human rights by increasing education about reproductive rights and providing abortion services in a maritime environment. Dr. Rebecca Gomperts founded Women on Waves to bring more attention to this issue. As she told me in a January 2010 interview, “Women travelling to other countries, [the issue is] often under the radar; they do it secretly, but it’s not public. The ship is a visual…with the ship are making the problem that exists visible.”

If Women on Wave’s strategy of using ships to create more attention to an issue is familiar to readers of gCaptain who follow the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, perhaps it is because both founders got their start with Greenpeace.

Gomperts once served as the doctor aboard the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.

Women on Waves has conducted operations elsewhere in Ireland (2001), Poland (2003) Portugal (2004) and Spain (2008). A subsequent attempt in Ecuador was unsuccessful when their sailboat ran aground. In early campaigns, WoW used a ship that could transport its “A-Portable” – a 20’x10’ container in which it could perform abortions. In later campaigns, it adapted by using a sailboat which distributed abortion pills. It is unknown which type of maritime platform WoW will use in Morocco.

For more information, please visit the WomenonWaves website here:  www.womenonwaves.org

Claude Berube is the co-editor of “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century.” He is a member of the US Naval Institute’s editorial board, and his new novel, “The Aden Effect” (Naval Institute Press), will be released 15 October.

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