Women on Waves
October 4, 2012 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Women on Waves is a Dutch organization started by a doctor in 1999 to provide abortion services to women in countries where abortion is illegal by performing procedures in international waters. They have traveled to Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, and now have their eyes set on Morocco. But Moroccan authorities are attempting to prevent the ship from docking. The group promises a surprise response.

Bonus: An interview with the founder, Rebecca Gomperts.
posted by zug (42 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
As I understood it, they go to a harbour and take women on board. Then they head to international waters, where abortions are carried out and other medical services/information are provided. Then the women are brought back to shore.

But, even if their ship is prevented from docking at a harbour, what exactly is going to prevent local boats from meeting this ship in international waters? Or, is that the surprise response?
posted by vidur at 5:48 PM on October 4, 2012


In an earlier press release the group said the ship was able to provide legal medical abortions for women who are up to six-and-a-half weeks pregnant, while it was anchored in international waters.

Legal abortions in international waters? Really? Legal? Under whose law? Or is the idea really to perform what would be illegal abortions in Morrocco? I don't know about maritime law, but I expect that most countries would not accept such a violation of their sovereignty.

If a Morroccan ship went into Rotterdam to pick up Muslim babies and then headed out to international waters to perform female "circumcisions", I don't think the Dutch would be all too pleased about this. And rightly so.

"what exactly is going to prevent local boats from meeting this ship in international waters?"

They would be called Coast Guard vessels. I imagine Morrocco has some. As we saw when the Turks tried to send aid to Gaza, "international" waters doesn't account for much when they other guy has armed naval ships.
posted by three blind mice at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2012


God bless these people for the work they do. Fuck any haters.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:12 PM on October 4, 2012 [28 favorites]


I'm pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with what they are doing. From here, they perform a handful of abortions and then sail off. It's not the number of abortions, she says, it's bringing awareness that's the goal.

But what happens to these women? First, they have an unwanted pregnancy and are feeling a bit desperate about their options. She comes in with a solution, but it leaves them in a bit of a bind later, doesn't it?

And then in the same article, she says she's targeting Morocco because nobody there knows about misoprostol. I find that absolutely impossible to believe. Casablanca, for example, is not exactly a backwater. And folks there spend vacations in France, Spain, and Portugal, and have TV and internet and everything.

I just can't help but feel that although she may mean well, she's taking advantage of these women, and looking down her nose at them due to cultural difference.
posted by Houstonian at 6:14 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a Morroccan ship went into Rotterdam to pick up Muslim babies and then headed out to international waters to perform female "circumcisions", I don't think the Dutch would be all too pleased about this. And rightly so.

Nice use of a hyperbolic scenario involving children (who can't consent) versus women (who can!). Also, I don't believe most (any?) Muslims practice that, but again, good job trying to distract from the actual issue.

Women should have access to education, birth control, and abortion. Women in Morrocco included.
posted by emjaybee at 6:15 PM on October 4, 2012 [34 favorites]


The ship isn't by any chance called the Tomorrow is it?
posted by scalefree at 6:17 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pro-choice, but I am uncomfortable with what they are doing. From here, they perform a handful of abortions and then sail off. It's not the number of abortions, she says, it's bringing awareness that's the goal.

My problem with this is the lack of accountability. While they are providing an essential service to a maligned minority, how do you have any accountability for any medicine practiced? If a woman has later complications from an abortion, who do you contact or litigate against?

At the same time, they are providing safe access and safe harbor for many women without any recourse or safe alternative. So ultimately, I'm just conflicted about the whole concept.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 6:34 PM on October 4, 2012


Legal abortions in international waters? Really? Legal? Under whose law? ...I expect that most countries would not accept such a violation of their sovereignty.

They're legal by the virtue of not being illegal. That's the thing about international waters. They're outside the sovereignty of any country.
posted by the jam at 6:36 PM on October 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


With pro-choice being labeled "baby killers" by its opposition, adding "pirates" to the resume doesn't seem to me a great PR strategy.

But you know what, here we are talking about what really sounds like a pissant operation, so if their point is to get the word out about legally available alternatives in Morocco, well done, actually.
posted by etc. at 6:39 PM on October 4, 2012


They're legal by the virtue of not being illegal. That's the thing about international waters. They're outside the sovereignty of any country.

Not really. A ship in international waters falls under the sovereignty of the nation in which it is registered.
posted by atrazine at 6:41 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Under whose law?"

Under Dutch law, since it takes place on a ship flying the Dutch flag in international waters.

Rich people everywhere can easily drive or fly to foreign soil and do things that are legal in that jurisdiction. Women on Waves offers a chance for poorer women do the same.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:45 PM on October 4, 2012 [28 favorites]


Fuck yeah to people actually going out and doing what others wring their hands over.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:46 PM on October 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


My problem with this is the lack of accountability. While they are providing an essential service to a maligned minority, how do you have any accountability for any medicine practiced? If a woman has later complications from an abortion, who do you contact or litigate against?

Where is the accountability where abortion is illegal (as in Morocco) and patients must access the healthcare they need through back-alley procedures, and mistakes can lead to infections, sterility and death?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:46 PM on October 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


"If a woman has later complications from an abortion, who do you contact or litigate against?"

Dr. Gunilla Kleiverda, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, and Gemma Pegano.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:54 PM on October 4, 2012


Rich people everywhere can easily drive or fly to foreign soil and do things that are legal in that jurisdiction. Women on Waves offers a chance for poorer women do the same.

Exactly. I grew up in Dubai where abortion is only allowed for very limited medical reasons (and sex outside of marriage is illegal). A few* of my high school friends took surprise four-day weekend "shopping" trips with mummy to Switzerland or England to have abortions. Everything is possible if you have money, of course poor servant girls who get pregnant have to resort to shady doctors and have nowhere to turn if there are complications.

*As a group we were not very good at contraception, it would seem.
posted by atrazine at 6:57 PM on October 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


The concept is hardly news. I remember Ireland getting pissed at them (or a similar group) in like 1999. (It was 1999 or earlier. I remember this being on the news in England when I was a kid, which puts an upper bound on the year.)

Coincidentally, the BBC article notes that they were invited to Morocco by a youth organisation.
posted by hoyland at 6:57 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If a Morroccan ship went into Rotterdam to pick up Muslim babies and then headed out to international waters to perform female "circumcisions", I don't think the Dutch would be all too pleased about this. And rightly so.
Or a pedo-pleasure cruse. In the U.S, it's illegal to travel overseas for sex with children. So even if it's not a crime (or not an enforced crime) there, it's still a crime in the U.S. even if you do it over seas. As far as I know, most countries that ban abortion don't make it illegal for women to leave the country to get one, but some might.
Nice use of a hyperbolic scenario involving children (who can't consent) versus women (who can!). Also, I don't believe most (any?) Muslims practice that, but again, good job trying to distract from the actual issue.
The pro-life view is that the fetus is alive and can't consent. Female circumcision is a northeast African thing, more then a 'Muslim' thing, but that's kind of beside the point. The point is that taking someone out to a boat to do something illegal in a country may not make it legal. It depends on the local laws. But it would be possible for Morocco to pass laws that would allow them to prosecute women who use this service.

Really though these people might help a handful of people, but it's obviously not something women in those countries will ever be able to 'rely' on.
posted by delmoi at 7:04 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't wait until there's a pro-life version of The Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace ship that harasses fishermen and whalers. How has no one thought of this?
posted by resurrexit at 7:12 PM on October 4, 2012


The concept is hardly news. I remember Ireland getting pissed at them (or a similar group) in like 1999.

I could have sworn that I read that Emma Goldman was involved in something like this back in her day.
posted by Rykey at 7:17 PM on October 4, 2012


I I just can't help but feel that although she may mean well, she's taking advantage of these women, and looking down her nose at them due to cultural difference.

Why?? What would lead you to that conclusion? These women are heroes. All women should have access to safe abortion if they choose it.

Another organization that helps women in countries where access to abortion is restricted is Women on Web
posted by Isadorady at 7:19 PM on October 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


If I'm understanding the links, they only give medications and don't do surgical abortions. So I would expect complications to be infrequent, though certainly possible. And it appears that the medication is actually legal in Morocco, though little known.

I don't see how providing free medical care takes advantage of anybody and I doubt that anybody who's getting free medical care in a desperate situation is super concerned that the founder of the project is looking down on them.

Bottom line: FREE MEDICAL CARE TO WOMEN WHO NEED IT.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:17 PM on October 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


At the same time, they are providing safe access and safe harbor

I see what you did there.

Also, I mentioned this organization in the thread on Peter Thiel's idea for floating experimental city-states, democratic labs where different forms of government are experimented with and tried out.

The idea got a lot of flack, primarily I think because the word "libertarian" was associated with it. And that term has been co-opted in the U.S. by the Right.

But Women on Waves shows that sometimes government can't or won't provide services that people deserve and need, and that a libertarian organization doesn't need to be a right-leaning organization.

Freedom over our own bodies should be a fundamental right, and I'm glad this group is out there providing support and access that they can't get at home.
posted by formless at 9:18 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


47,000 Women Die Each Year From Unsafe Abortions
posted by homunculus at 10:02 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I could have sworn that I read that Emma Goldman was involved in something like this back in her day.

To set the record straight, Goldman was frequently arrested for promoting birth control via contraception, because in her day abortion was much more dangerous and quite often fatal.

Under Dutch law, since it takes place on a ship flying the Dutch flag in international waters.

Indeed, for a time their operations were hindered by changes in Dutch law.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


As far as I know, most countries that ban abortion don't make it illegal for women to leave the country to get one, but some might.

Oh Ireland did until the mid 90s! I was a teenage girl at the time and I cannot describe the outrage over this case. I thought my mother and the other women of Dublin were going to rise en masse and march that girl to London And was very disappointed that they didn't, even though her family won in the end. It certainly was a pivotal moment in the lives of people my age, even though it wasn't the first such case. Lots of women my age will tell you that they donate money or time or are politically active because of this girl and her family, it really hit home that the state could be unfair and unreasonable and downright insane and would happily act against your best interests. And your parents couldn't save you, no one could.

I would point out this was the same year that Sinead O'Connor ripped up the photo of the pope on SNL. That's the climate she grew up in and the attitude the ruling party of old men in Ireland had towards young girls because of the Catholic Church. We all thought she was great.
posted by fshgrl at 10:32 PM on October 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Can we get them to sail to Mississippi?
posted by TedW at 3:27 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard the chief gyno on the radio last night, and I swear it she the dumbest interviewee I have heard in ages.
She seemed confused, oblivious, and generally stupid.
Sure, Morocco is a Muslim country where the likelihood of any mass violence from extremists is less than other places, but she seemed to lack an understanding of the issues.
All the issues.

It was jaw-droppingly astounding in its stupidity.
posted by Mezentian at 4:05 AM on October 5, 2012


If a Morroccan ship went into Rotterdam to pick up Muslim babies and then headed out to international waters to perform female "circumcisions", I don't think the Dutch would be all too pleased about this. And rightly so.

Abortions are not the same as genital mutilation. Either they're much worse, because there's a murder involved (prolife), or they're a medical procedure with a general positive effect on a woman with an unwanted pregnancy (prochoice).

This is where cultural relativity breaks down; you can't make one-to-one comparisons of everything different cultures find icky. Furthermore where there are a lot of sensible reasons to treat them that way, for general purposes, a national border does not abrogate connection to the suffering of your fellow humans and it does not turn the people on the other side of a usually arbitrary line into being less than the people on your side.
posted by Phalene at 5:03 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's a lot of disparagement to be spouting without substantiation, Mezentian. Enlighten a fellow.
posted by mr. digits at 5:04 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or -- honest question -- is this the sort of post that could be reasonably flagged?
posted by mr. digits at 5:05 AM on October 5, 2012


That's a lot of disparagement to be spouting without substantiation, Mezentian.

It was hard to hear, as it was a bad line, but the gyno seemed to be completely oblivious to the repercussions of what they are doing. I don't pretend to have half the knowledge of how abortion is dealt with in the Arabic world, much less Morocco, but her through-line seemed to be that what they were doing was legal (technically), so they could and would do it.

Now, I am sure there's a lot of smarts in WOW, but she did not present well at all.

I'm agnostic on the whole abortion issue, and since it's not my lump of cells forming a new life I feel impartial, but I was not impressed at all.

is this the sort of post that could be reasonably flagged?

I don't see why not. Abortion is probably like Israel/Palestine or gun control.
posted by Mezentian at 5:20 AM on October 5, 2012


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
posted by ersatz at 5:23 AM on October 5, 2012


I don't see why not. Abortion is probably like Israel/Palestine or gun control.

True that, but I was more concerned about the lack of substance in your original post, as far as flagging is concerned. I think that I've got a pretty good handle on what the moderators will moderate in the past six months, but am always looking to sharpen it up.

Anyhow, thanks for the response. More conversation is more better, regardless of the topic.*





*I'm sure that this isn't literally true, but you know.
posted by mr. digits at 5:28 AM on October 5, 2012


I don't pretend to have half the knowledge of how abortion is dealt with in the Arabic world, much less Morocco, but her through-line seemed to be that what they were doing was legal (technically), so they could and would do it.

I'm not sure how that makes her dumb.

Sure, Morocco is a Muslim country where the likelihood of any mass violence from extremists is less than other places, but she seemed to lack an understanding of the issues.
All the issues.


What are "All the issues"? You seem to have strong feelings about this and yet claim you don't have "half the knowledge of how abortion is dealt with." So I am confused.

Her group provides abortions up to 6 and a weeks in international waters on a Dutch ship. So yes. This is legal. And I also think she should do it. I am only sorry that they can provide such a very few abortions given the short time that they will be there. However it seems to be more of a chance to publicize the medication that is already available to them.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:44 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


What are "All the issues"?

That women who tootle out on boats to get RUwhatsit might be followed home and "dealt with".

That worried me, more than it worried her.
But I don't want to become the subject of this thread, so I shall bow out for a spell.
posted by Mezentian at 6:17 AM on October 5, 2012


That women who tootle out on boats to get RUwhatsit might be followed home and "dealt with".

Moroccan women don't have the ability to judge any possible risks for themselves? It's not like the organisation is kidnapping pregnant women and offering them abortions.
posted by hoyland at 6:26 AM on October 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Update--ship escorted out of the harbor after police blocked women's access to the port.
posted by misha at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2012


Given that women were trying to access the port, I think we can feel certain that they've thought about their options and are able to make their own choices without us deciding whether or not it meets our standards. Faux concern for women's safety is an old hobby horse when it comes to abortion.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:14 AM on October 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile, in the US: Lizz Winstead, co-creator of Daily Show, launches Lady Parts Justice
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2012



I could have sworn that I read that Emma Goldman was involved in something like this back in her day.

To set the record straight, Goldman was frequently arrested for promoting birth control via contraception, because in her day abortion was much more dangerous and quite often fatal.


Yeah, I knew about that... what I seem to remember reading definitely involved a steamship going out to sea into international waters, with the abortions performed on board. Maybe that Goldman simply lent her financial support to such an endeavor? Or maybe the crack is just extra strong this week. Hmm.
posted by Rykey at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2012


Shocker: Free Birth Control Means Fewer Abortions
posted by homunculus at 8:58 PM on October 5, 2012


First-Ever Abortion Clinic in Ireland to Open Next Week
posted by homunculus at 5:09 PM on October 12, 2012


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