on Sat, 16 Feb 2002 08:43:18 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> 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

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 (3D 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
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

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

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
- 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

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
#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: