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Women on Waves, launched in 1999 to give women abortions at sea under Dutch law, feels threatened.
No women were able to come aboard for abortions, but Gomperts said the publicity generated helped win over Portuguese public opinion in a referendum that voted to legalize abortion in 2007. Early in 2009, WoW won a case at the European Court of Human Rights against the Portuguese navy’s action.
"We have been able to help a symbolic number of women in order to create a better awareness about the social injustice that is created by illegal abortion and the suffering that is caused for women," she said. "The ship is never a solution ... . It has been a very important tool to mobilize women's organizations, and other groups, doctors and lawyers, around safe and legal abortion." As it approaches the anniversary, WoW is confined to port. Recent legislation put forward by the Dutch government has restricted the distribution and use of the abortion pills that are used by the group.
Gomperts fears the legal changes could leave women who board the ship vulnerable to prosecution in their own countries, so WoW has postponed a planned voyage to Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil and Argentina while it seeks clarification from the Dutch courts, a process expected to take at least a year.
Gomperts is worried the new law reflects growing anti-abortion sentiment in the Netherlands, which legalized the practice in 1981.
The Christian Union party, which says Dutch abortion laws go “against one of the most elementary values: the protection of life,” joined the country’s coalition government in 2007 and has pushed for a tightening of the rules on abortion. Dutch authorities are already considering legal proceedings against the WoW for distributing abortion pills off the coast of Spain last year.
"A lot of the groups that are against abortion rights have substantially more financial means, while a lot of the women's organizations have had funding cut," Gomperts complained. "The anti-abortion groups teach in schools; they are very active in the media."
Gomperts said WoW's main task now is education, helping women understand how they can use the medication to terminate their pregnancies.
“That’s what our focus will be, really, to train people and to make sure that the information about medical abortion gets into the hands of the women themselves,” Gomperts said.
She remains adamant, however, that if the group's legal fight against the new Dutch restrictions is successful the abortion boat will sail again.