Women On Waves’ Abortion Boat May Be Permanently Docked

The Women on Waves boat, a vessel which sailed to international waters outside countries where abortion is illegal and terminated pregnancies, may be docking for good.

A little backstory: Founded in 1999, WoW is a Netherlands-based charity with a boat that docked 12 miles off the coast (which constitutes “international water”) of places like Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, where women must rely on illegal abortions to end their pregnancies. WoW provided contraceptives, pregnancy testing, information about STDs, and prescribed the abortion pill (RU-486) to women who came on board. (WoW never actually performed surgical abortions on the boat, although it has had permission since 2008 to use a converted vessel to terminate pregnancies up to 12 weeks.) But recently, Rebecca Gomperts, a physician and the organizer behind WoW, told a Dutch publication that her government has changed their laws regarding distribution of the abortion pill. Unfortunately, WoW can no longer distribute RU-486 without fearing legal action. The boat won’t actually be docked, but will sit in a museum in Rotterdam, possibly as an exhibit on feminist history.

Gomperts is now throwing her support behind Women On Web, an “online medical abortion service” where women who live in countries where abortion is illegal can get a prescription for the RU-486 abortion pill. A woman answers 25 questions online, which are reviewed by a doctor for inconsistencies, and is asked to voluntarily contribute 70 euros for the pills, she said.

But Women On Web is still not a sure bet for women who want a safe pregnancy termination—even though the abortion pills are mailed in a discreet package. Gomperts said Ireland apparently screens all packages in customs and has been stopping the pill from getting to its intended destination. [RH Reality Check, NRC Handelsblad]