geert on Fri, 15 Feb 2002 23:41:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] newsletter from

Sent: Friday, February 15, 2002 8:51 PM
Subject: newsletter #4
Newsletter #4
14 February 2002
Dear Friends,

I write to give you a quick update on Women on Waves in light of the recent decision by the Dutch government to refuse us a license to operate, and some news of developments in the past six months, and a short list of needs that we have for which we would welcome help. These newsletters have turned out to be very important to us in mobilizing support; so let me first say thanks to all for your valued interest, feedback and letters of support.

First, we were notified last Friday by the Dutch Ministry of Health that it denied our request for a license. Our lawyers have concluded that the basis of the decision was remarkably weak and likely unlawful. Thus, Women on Waves has decided to appeal the decision and our sense is that we have a very good chance to win. This of course costs time; at least eight weeks in the best case and two years in the worst.

Since we now have funds and the organization to mount another campaign this summer, we are in the meantime looking for opportunities to sail under the flag of another country that has a liberal abortion law and does not require a special license. One of these countries is very promising and we already found a ship registered in this country that we might be able to charter. Although there are still some small things that have to be sorted out, we are very hopeful that we will do our next project this summer in any case.
So, to quote George Bush, "make no mistake " Women on Waves will continue to make waves until women all over the world have the right to choose!!

Here's the licensing issue in brief.

1- In the Netherlands abortion is only allowed in places that have a special license; providing abortion without a license is punishable with four and a half years in jail.
2- The Dutch  abortion act is 20 years old and the government stated in the past that treatments for a woman that has missed her period for 16 days (= 45 days of gestation, early abortions also called over-time treatment)  are not regulated by the abortion act. This was confirmed by the high court in 1995; this is the primary basis for which we believe that we don't need a license for most of our clients.
4- The  abortion act demands procedures for dealing with emergencies and there must be sufficient follow up care. Furthermore the clinic has to be non-profit; the doctor has to establish the wish and need of the women to have an abortion and that she has taken the decision free of coercion.
5- The government concluded that our treatment room satisfied all the necessary medical requirements and that the quality of care we could provide was good.
6- The inspection expressed doubts about follow up care in case of failure of the abortion pill  and that they would not be able to inspect us. The license was denied on these grounds only.

Our quality handbook explained how we would provide follow-up care -- our procedure is this:
1- Sail into harbor of  the  country where abortion is illegal
2- Counsel women in the harbor
3- Take women on board in the harbor and sail to international waters. (2 hours from the coast). Provide RU 468  (abortion pill)  outside territorial waters.
4- Sail back to the harbor.
5- 48 hours later the women insert the misoprostol vaginally, which is the second part of the treatment. This takes place on land. The ship is in the harbor at this time. If a vacuum aspiration is necessary to treat excessive bleeding (according to the literature vacuum aspirations take place in 2,7 %  of the treatments with RU 486), this can be done in the treatment room in the harbor (not at high sea) as this falls under post-abortion care.
6- Have the women return to the ship after a 3 days up to a week to control with a ultra sonogram whether the abortion is completed. In the case the abortion is not completed we can do a vacuum aspiration. In the very unlikely case there will be a persistent pregnancy (according to the literature less than  0,3 % of the treatments with RU 468 do not work) we can also perform vacuum aspirations at sea or fly the women to the Netherlands if necessary.

With the abortion pill there is never an acute life threatening complication. We are able to treat all the complications in the treatment room as it is fully outfitted,to do vacuum aspirations as well. We will always work together with local medical doctors. And most importantly there will always be a gynecologist on board, a standard of care that no other abortion clinics in the Netherlands provides.

The report of the inspection ignores these facts; they assume that we will do vacuum aspirations at high sea and that hospitals in the countries we visit will need to do the aftercare (which many by the way can and do very well). We stated that Women on Waves will do the after care , and we work with local doctors and women's organizations to provide continuity of care.

It is on the basis of this information that we will appeal.

Concerning the problem of the government inspecting us, we stated that we would inform them where we are and are always willing to pay for the tickets to come to inspect us. A seagoing country like the Netherlands must be able to inspect its ships all over the world.

During the 10 month decision process, we spoke to the Minister of Health and others, and received continuous signals that we would receive confirmation that we could provide early treatments. In the end, we didn't get that; this too provides good grounds for appeal. The Minister of health Borst stated that she appreciated the goals of Women on Waves and wished us success with our other activities, information and prevention.

The downside of all this is that we won't be able to do this summer's action on a Dutch ship without concluding the appeal; this is for ship's liability insurance reasons. Therefor we decided to try to sail a ship registered in an other country as long as we do not have the Dutch license.

Other news  in brief:

1- Women on Waves was invited by Porto 2001, the European Capital of Culture, to participate in the exhibition "First story-women building/new narratives for the 21  st century" from October 13 till December 18). (
Portugal has very restrictive abortion laws and abortion related prosecutions just this past year included a nurse and 17 women that had  undergone abortions. The nurse was sentenced to prison for 8 1/2 years. Women on Waves along with Portuguese abortion rights organizations used the opportunity of the exhibition to call attention to the restrictive laws in Portugal and these prosecutions. At the opening of exhibition we started a signature campaign to support the prosecuted persons.

2- We published a book about the pilot project in Ireland with testimonials, photo's and the whole inside story  and will launch that on February 22nd.

3- Rebecca Gomperts has been  named by Ms Magazine as one of the "Women of the Year "!

4- We have been able to raise sufficient funds for the next project.  The denial of the license creates a bit of funding gap however and we will need to pass the hat at least once more; we are grateful for your financial support !

Requests :

1- We need medical experts that are willing to write a expert report from their experience about several possible aspects of abortion care as possible complications and aftercare with the use of the abortion pill. This is needed on a very short notice. The report does not have to be too long but we need it to use for our appeal. We would appreciate it if you could address the following:
- the safety of medical and/or instrumental first trimester abortion procedures
- the lack of life threatening complications if abortions are performed by trained doctors
- the fact that doctors in countries with restricted laws are willing and morally obliged to perform post-abortioncare in case of late complications

Please contact us when you are willing to write such a report or send it too: Women on Waves, P.O.Box 15683, 1001 ND, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2- We would like to call on everybody to write a letter to our Minister Borst, expressing your solidarity with Women on Waves, the need of the services we provide in your and other countries and your faith in the quality of the project and the medical (after)care we will give.  We would appreciate it if you could send us a copy as well (to be used in the appeal process) and please let us know whether we can use your reaction in the Dutch press.
The address of the Minister is:

Minister E. Borst
Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport
Postbus 20350,
2500 EJ   Den Haag
The Netherlands

We will keep you informed; write back if you can!.

Sincerely  yours,
Rebecca Gomperts , MD

On behalf of Women on Waves