Around noon on Saturday, a drone will land in Słubice, a small town on Poland’s western border. His cargo? Multiple doses of each of the drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol, which taken together constitute an abortion.
“It’s not an airdrop,” Rebecca Gomperts told me on the phone days before delivery. “This is an individual delivery method – we do not drop bags full of abortion pills in Poland.” Currently, Gomperts and his team of women on the waves plan to provide “less than five” doses to women in need on the drone’s single trip across the border. But there’s a good chance the drugs will never reach their destination: “We’ve already heard that there will be people trying to stop the drone.”
Over the past few months, Gomperts and her team, along with partner women’s organizations in Poland, have found a way to smuggle drugs from Frankfurt, Germany, where abortion is legal, to Poland, one of rare European countries where this is not the case. As long as the drone remains in view of the operator, carries non-commercial cargo, and does not carry packages weighing more than 5 kg, they believe they are on the right side of the law. The pills, on the other hand, can only be used by women during their first nine weeks of pregnancy and do not require the supervision of a doctor.
The work of Women on Waves focuses on the odd fact that women on one side of a border, for example in Germany, have free and safe access to abortion, while women at a screaming distance might not. not do it: “We wanted to draw attention to the different realities of women’s rights in Europe. How different life can be for women just a few hundred meters apart. Gomperts trained in doctor in the Netherlands, but was strongly influenced by a first visit to a Greenpeace boatwhere she will work later – as she says in Shipa 2014 documentary made on Women on Waves, she “never really saw herself in a white coat”.
The organization was founded in 1999, after Gomperts realized that in international waters, the laws of the country where the boat is registered apply – not those of the nearest jurisdiction. This means that a doctor could perform legal abortions a few kilometers from the coasts of countries where they are prohibited. So Gomperts built a clinic in a packing container, loaded it onto a ship and left the Netherlands.
The Aquatic Clinic made its first stop in Ireland in 2001, but its maiden voyage didn’t quite go to plan. The team were still waiting for the Dutch authorities to find out if they needed a special license to administer the drugs (they later found out that was not the case) and had to leave Ireland without carrying out any procedures.
Content from our partners
The angry backlash from the media and the country’s pro-life lobby hasn’t made life easy either, but, as the team soon realized, all publicity really is good publicity. The operation received worldwide coverage and Women on Waves quickly heard from women in other countries who needed their services.
Since, Women on Waves launches campaigns went to Poland, Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Gomperts now operates primarily through Women on the Web, an online version of the Women on Waves project, which mails abortion pills to women who need them for a donation of around 70 euros (but women can also abstain if they are in an “economic situation very difficult”). Visitors to the site are advised to take a pregnancy test and, if possible, an ultrasound, then complete a 25-question online consultation which will be reviewed by one of Women on Web’s doctors. In most countries, women will not be prosecuted for having an abortion, even if it is illegal there.
So is the drone experience really necessary if women can receive the drugs by post? Gomperts says she’s heard of companies like Amazon and Google doing drone deliveries, and didn’t see why it couldn’t work for their drugs. “We follow all new developments in new technologies and want to use everything we can to ensure that women have access to safe abortions.”
Then, of course, there’s the media coverage the idea has already generated – an “abortion drone” gets a lot more attention than an abortifacient drug mail service. “Like all of our work, the drone project is a combination of raising awareness and providing needed services,” Gomperts says. “And women are entitled to this global attention – for the violation of their rights and the enormous social injustice they suffer.”
If all goes well, Gomperts hopes to experiment with the same method elsewhere: “There are still quite a few borders in the world where on the one hand abortion is legal and on the other not.
As any medical professional would admit, abortions performed by mail or drone are not ideal. Women do not meet with a doctor for an in-person consultation and must determine on their own if there is a reason why the procedure would not be right for them.
But the abortions offered by Women on Web and Women on Waves are relatively safe: they are performed during the first weeks of pregnancy and are non-invasive. The World Health Organization even recommend that hospital care is not necessary for abortions under nine weeks, and that taking the second of the two pills at home may actually be more relaxing for the woman in question. In fact, mifepristone and misoprostol carry a lower mortality risk than penicillin.
So, of the 50,000 clandestine abortions that are said to be performed in Poland each year, I have a feeling that the handle proposed by Gomperts and his team will be among the safest. Until the law changes in countries around the world, abortions administered by vigilantes like Gomperts may represent the only safe access women have to their right to control their own bodies.
The first drone operation will take place on Saturday June 27, and women on the waves hopes to broadcast the event live. Check their website for more details.