Women on Waves: Dutch boat helps women with abortions in Mexico
24 April 2017, 18:45 IST

There's a boat docked in the international waters surrounding Mexico. It caters to passport-bearing pregnant women in need of medical help, specifically those who require abortions. Women on Waves is positioned off the state of Guerrero, on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

The Dutch sailing boat goes around the world, stopping close to countries that deny abortion rights to women, but not too close. As long as they're in international waters, Women on Waves has the authority to hand out abortion pills, but not without necessary checks.


So far, the medically trained crew has handed the pill to two Mexican women

Women on Waves president Rebecca Gomperts, at a press meet, said that access to safe abortions was a matter of "social justice" in Latin America, directly referencing the immediate threat of the Zika virus which increases the risk of birth deformities.

So far, the medically trained crew has handed the pill to two Mexican women. Their last outing off the Guatemalan coast was not so successful.

The boat, which often attracts protesters with as much frequency as women in need of assistance, was driven away from near Guatemala in February, where it was unable to carrying out even a single procedure.

The method

Having docked near Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain before, the Dutch crew's stop at Mexico comes with some solid prior experience.

Gomperts' team is trained to prescribe abortion pills. However, that isn't the only operation they carry out, as there's extensive counselling, with a stress on choice. And choice could also be to not go through with the abortion, keep the child, or look at adoption options.

Women on Waves caters to these aspects and provides medical attention even after the pill has been ingested. The patient remains under observation for a few hours, after which they return to shore on small vessels.

The abortion pill, a WHO recommendation, is a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, medication that induces miscarriage. According to WHO, around 26 million women use this pill to successfully abort pregnancies. But that doesn't mean it should be purchased online and ingested without full knowledge.

Over the years, the organisation has set up hotlines in different countries, including Ecuador, Chile

Women on Waves, according to their official website, is now looking to focus more on empowering women with this knowledge. They intend to show women “how to do a medical abortion safely themselves by distributing information through the internet, stickers, and by supporting the creation of safe abortion telephone hotlines through our partner organisations.”

Over the years, the organisation has set up hotlines in different countries, including Ecuador, Chile, Portugal, etc.

However, the Dutch boat's presence near Mexico is interesting especially because the country has legalised abortion in cases of rape. However, the laws differ across the 31 Mexican states, thereby denying scores of women the opportunity to live life on their terms.

Not for everyone

Dr Gomperts, the brain behind this operation, has been pushing for women's reproductive rights for over 15 years now. According to their official website, back in 2001, Gomperts and her crew were denied a license to perform abortion treatments by the Dutch health ministry.

In 2004, however, the Court of Law of Amsterdam reversed the verdict. By 2008, Women on Waves finally gained a license to perform first trimester abortions. Early abortions can often be taken care of with the pill and thus the boat doesn't have an operation room.

This means that, while the service is extremely important, it isn't accessible to all. Plus there's that little thing about international waters requiring a passport, a booklet not many possess.

Recently though, the group has released an online statement that states they are offering “free legal medical abortions till 9 weeks of pregnancy” to women who needed them. This quite naturally puts victims of rape as top priority.

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