Women on Waves

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Women on Waves (WoW) is a Dutch pro-choice non-profit organization created in 1999 by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts, in order to bring reproductive health services, particularly non-surgical abortion services, to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. Other services offered by WoW include contraception and reproductive counseling. Services are provided on a commissioned ship that contains a specially constructed mobile clinic. When WoW visits a country, women make appointments, and are taken on board the ship. The ship then sails out to international waters (where Dutch laws are in effect on board the ship) to perform the medical abortions.

Rebecca Gomperts[edit]

Rebecca Gomperts is a physician, artist and women's human rights activist. Born in 1966, Gomperts grew up in the harbor town of Vlissingen, Holland. She moved to Amsterdam in the 1980s where she studied art and medicine simultaneously.[1] Drawing on her experiences as a resident physician on the Greenpeace vessel under Capt. Bart J. Terwiel Rainbow Warrior II, Gomperts created WoW in order to address the health issues created by illegal abortion. While visiting Latin America on board the Rainbow Warrior II, the organization was inspired by a desire to further facilitate social change and women's health. In some developing countries, as many as 800 illegal, unsafe abortions are performed daily, in contrast to some developed nations, such as the Netherlands, where residents have access to safe, legal, medical abortions and contraception. In collaboration with Atelier van Lieshout, she designed a portable gynaecology unit called "A-portable" that can be installed on rented ships. The stated goals of the organization are to raise awareness and stimulate discussion about laws regarding abortion which they allege to be restrictive, as well as to provide safe, non-surgical abortions for women who live in countries where abortion is illegal.[2]



Women on Waves made its maiden voyage aboards the Aurora to Ireland in 2001. The ship carried two Dutch doctors and one Dutch nurse.[3]


WoW sailed the Langenort to Poland in 2003.[4] Poland's official polling company, Centrum Badania Opinii Spolecznej, found that prior to WoW's visit, 44% of the population supported the liberalization of abortion laws, and that after the visit, the percentage rose to 56%.[5]


In 2004, their attempt to enter Portuguese waters was blocked when the government refused to allow them entry, and physically blocked their ship with a Portuguese Navy warship.[6]


In 2008, Women on Waves' ship landed in Valencia, Spain, where it had a mixed reception. Some demonstrators supported the group, others opposed it. According to Catholic News Agency,

"On October 18, a group of 40 feminists gathered to counter the pro-life protests, which brought out four times as many people. They passed out boxes of matches with the picture of a burning church and the caption, 'The only church that brings light is the one that burns. Join us!'

On October 19, the feminists met again to distribute matches but decided to disband after they were overwhelmed by the large number of pro-life protestors who gathered at the port where the abortion ship was docked."

As the ship attempted to dock amid both pro-life and pro-choice protesters, harbor patrol agents manning a small boat lassoed a rope around the helm of the ship and attempted to pull it away from the dock.[7]


On October 3, 2012, the Moroccan health ministry implemented a ban preventing the entry of the Women on Waves ship Langenort into the port of Smir.[8]


In 2014 Vessel, a documentary by Diana Whitten focusing on Women on Waves, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Texas.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Corbett, Sara (Aug. 26 2001), http://www.bard.edu/hrp/resource_pdfs/corbett.gomperts.pdf |contribution-url= missing title (help), Rebecca Gomperts Is Trying to Save the World for Abortion, NY: The New York Times Magazine  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ Ferry, Julie (Nov. 14, 2007), The abortion ship's doctor, UK: Guardian, retrieved 2008-11-14  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Chocano, Carina. "The "abortion boat" steams toward Ireland". Salon.com. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  4. ^ Frenkiel, Olenka; Agnew, Lara (Oct. 26 2003), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/correspondent/3187614.stm |contribution-url= missing title (help), in O'Connor, Karen, Abortion Ship, UK: BBC News  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ "Women on Waves Cleared of Accusations in Poland". Wire story. Feminist Daily News. November 6, 2003. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  6. ^ "Women on Waves: Meet the Dutch Physician Who Defied Abortion Bans by Bringing Her Clinic to the Sea". Democracy Now!. January 15, 2015. 
  7. ^ http://www.vesselthefilm.com
  8. ^ http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/10/dutch-abortion-boat-barred-from-morocco/