By Ana Elena Obando – WHRnet, November 2005.
Excerpt of an interview: … Rebecca explains that they have sailed to countries where they are invited to by local women’s organizations that have a long history of working on the ground to bring about social change. The arrival of the ship helps create momentum, brings media attention, and provokes a political outcry and local level debate between supporters and detractors, all of which helps to lead to changes in public opinion. When Women on Waves headed to Poland, before the ship arrived there, 44% of the population was in favor of legalizing abortion. As Women on Waves continued their activities, the adverse effects of existing laws and the need for legal abortion became more visible. Opinion polls showed that after the ship’s departure, support for women’s right to abortion increased to 56%. The ship’s presence raised local awareness about the practice of abortion worldwide and increased its mainstream acceptability, as the most practiced intervention worldwide, along with eye cataract operations.
Rebecca adds that the media impact creates political momentum for women’s groups. In Poland, for example, these groups acted to present a proposal to change the existing law after the boat’s intervention- however, the government refused to discuss the law in the Parliament. Other countries have seen greater political implications. Last year in Portugal, the government fell two months after an intervention by women on waves, in part due to its confrontational stance against the ship’s arrival. They had tried to prevent the ship from entering, considering it a threat to national security. They went as far as to send a war ship to block the Women on Waves ship from entering national waters. Those actions provoked a huge debate in the European Parliament, in Portugal’s Parliament and even the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry had to intervene, creating a huge scandal at that time. Eventually, the President of Portugal decided that his government was no longer credible. Right now there is a strong movement to legalize abortion in Portugal and they think it will be legalized next year, she said.
Women on Waves have yet to venture to Latin-American or Africa. Rebecca explained how this project has become a somewhat larger than life myth of a ship that is going around the world defending women’s rights. In fact they are struggling for funds and have just done three campaigns, visiting Ireland, Poland and Portugal. They don’t own a ship, but have to rent a ship every time they go for a mission. Each mission requires long preparation, from legal research, to security agents, to volunteers, etc. They also invite local doctors to come on board to train them and conduct workshops for women inside the boat.
Before visiting a country they open a hotline and buy mobile phone cards. The hotline number is posted everywhere. When the press arrives they hold a press conference on the ship while women can call them. Any woman can make an appointment with them by telephone, email or by visiting the ship. They inform women when and where to board the ship and treat them according to Dutch professional medical standards, which include full confidentiality about counseling and/or treatment.
Rebecca calls for doctors from around the world to show the courage to provide abortions and work together. She noted how Dr. Henry Morgentaler changed the abortion law in Canada. He started providing abortions when it was illegal, and he was prosecuted and put in jail for it. He persevered nonetheless, and the Courts ultimately decided that the abortion law was violating women’s rights … (full text).