Women on Waves Performs First Abortion in International Waters

Women on Waves successfully performed the first abortion in international waters off the coast of Poland yesterday. After facing protests and a fine for breaching port procedures, the boat set sail on Thursday afternoon, taking with it a small group of Polish women. In international waters, a licensed gynecologist and nurse from the Netherlands administered mifepristone (RU 486). The women also received a sex education class on board the ship, where they were taught about various kinds of contraceptives.

“This was an historical voyage,” said Margie Moore, Director of Law Enforcement Operations for the Feminist Majority Foundation. Moore worked with the ship’s crew and community volunteers in Poland and the Netherlands for several weeks before the ship set sail, training them to assess threats of violence and implement specialized security plans to guard against potential violence or disruptions. FMF also assisted with WOW’s June 2001 trip to Ireland. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to administer RU 486 to women in Ireland, so this really is an historic occasion,” Moore said.

Women on Waves, founded by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands whose mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world. In Poland, access to abortion is extremely restricted. WOW provides abortion and reproductive health services to women on a specially equipped ship. Dr. Gomperts constructed a floating clinic on a ship that sails to countries where abortion is illegal and, by sailing out to international waters, she is able to provide essential reproductive services to women, including non-surgical abortions, contraception, and counseling.

Under the current law in Poland, women are permitted to obtain abortions only when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, when the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the life of the woman, or when there is “heavy, irreversible” damage to the fetus. According to the Polish Federation of Women and Family Planning, because of these restrictions there are as many as 200,000 illegal abortions performed in Poland each year. Women who can afford to travel abroad for an abortion will pay as much as $500, the equivalent of more than one months’ pay. With more than 60 percent of women in Poland living under the poverty threshold, this leaves many women with little choice other than an unsafe illegal abortion.

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