Women on Waves (WOW), a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands whose mission is to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions throughout the world, arrives today in Poland - where access to abortion is extremely restricted - to provide abortion and reproductive health services to women on a specially equipped ship. WOW's founder, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, has constructed a floating clinic on a ship that sails to countries where abortion is illegal and, by sailing out to international waters, she is able to provide essential reproductive services to women, including non-surgical abortions, contraception, and counseling.
The Feminist Majority Foundation's Director of Law Enforcement Operations has been working with staff and community volunteers in Poland and the Netherlands for several weeks, training them to assess threats of violence and implement specialized security plans to guard against potential violence or disruptions. She is currently onsite in Poland assisting with security operations for the ship's arrival. FMF staff also assisted WOW in its June 2001 voyage to Ireland, where the group sparked international debate about restrictive abortion laws and provided reproductive healthcare services for hundreds of Irish women.
Under the current law in Poland, women are permitted to obtain abortions only when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, when the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the life of the woman, or when there is "heavy, irreversible" damage to the fetus. According to the Polish Federation of Women and Family Planning, because of these restrictions there are as many as 200,000 illegal abortions performed in Poland each year. Women who can afford to travel abroad for an abortion will pay as much as $500, the equivalent of more than one months' pay. With more than 60 percent of women in Poland living under the poverty threshold, this leaves many women with little choice other than an unsafe illegal abortion. The United Nations estimates that 80,000 women and girls worldwide die annually from complications resulting from botched, illegal abortions. Women's health and feminist organizations estimate the number to be greater than 200,000.