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.[1]

Rebecca Gomperts[edit]

Rebecca Gomperts, Lodz, Poland, 2017

Rebecca Gomperts is a general-practice physician, artist and women's rights activist. Born in 1966, Gomperts grew up in the harbor town of Vlissingen, Netherlands. She moved to Amsterdam in the 1980s where she studied art and medicine simultaneously.[2] Drawing on her experiences as a resident physician on the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior II, which was captained by Bart J. Terwiel, 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.[3]


In 2002 the Dutch Health Minister, Els Borst, gave permission to the Women on Waves group to offer pregnant women the abortion pill on board their boat, Aurora. According to Borst the decision was in line with the Dutch government's policy on the issue of sexual independence of women. The permission was given on the condition that the abortion pill would only be used to terminate pregnancies of up to six weeks and would be provided in the presence of a gynaecologist.[4]


Women on Waves made its maiden voyage aboard the Aurora to Ireland in 2001. The ship carried two Dutch doctors and one Dutch nurse.[5]


WoW sailed the Langenort to Poland in 2003.[6] 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%.[7]


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 Navy warship.[8]


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 18 October 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 19 October the feminists met again to distribute matches but decided to disband after they were overwhelmed by the large number of pro-life protesters 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.[9]


On 3 October 2012, the Moroccan health ministry implemented a ban preventing the entry of the Women on Waves ship Langenort into the port of Smir.[10]


On 22 February 2017, the WoW ship docked in Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific coast for a planned five-day visit. On 23 February, a scheduled press conference was shut down shortly after it started[11] and a blockade was imposed by Army troops, preventing the activists from disembarking and visitors from boarding.[12]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Campaigns and Information". Women on Waves. Retrieved 17 October 2016. 
  2. ^ Corbett, Sara (26 August 2001), Rebecca Gomperts Is Trying to Save the World for Abortion, NY: The New York Times Magazine 
  3. ^ Ferry, Julie (14 November 2007), The abortion ship's doctor, UK: Guardian, retrieved 2008-11-14 
  4. ^ Geraldine Coughlan (2 July 2002). "Legal boost for Dutch abortion ship". BBC. 
  5. ^ Chocano, Carina. "The "abortion boat" steams toward Ireland". Salon.com. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  6. ^ Frenkiel, Olenka; Agnew, Lara (26 October 2003), O'Connor, Karen, ed., Abortion Ship, UK: BBC News 
  7. ^ "Women on Waves Cleared of Accusations in Poland". Wire story. Feminist Daily News. 6 November 2003. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  8. ^ "Women on Waves: Meet the Dutch Physician Who Defied Abortion Bans by Bringing Her Clinic to the Sea". Democracy Now!. 15 January 2015. 
  9. ^ http://www.vesselthefilm.com
  10. ^ http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/10/dutch-abortion-boat-barred-from-morocco/
  11. ^ http://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/6588/guatemalan-army-declare-they-will-denounce-the-abortion-ship-without-legal-groun
  12. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39073367

External links[edit]