Women’s History Month Highlight: Doctor Rebecca Gomperts

Anna Lobastova, Co-President of the Reproductive Justice Club at ASU and Appalachian State University Senior

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 21.6 million women experience unsafe abortions every year and 47,000 of these women die as a result of complications that arise from these procedures. Within both feminist and human rights discourses, safe and legal abortion is often regarded as an essential right that allows for people to preserve their health, economic stability, and bodily autonomy in the face of an often-desperate situation. However, not every country in the world recognizes legal abortion as an essential right that it is, leading to the colossal amount of injuries and deaths cited by WHO.

rebecca-gompertsDr. Rebecca Gomperts saw these global violations of human rights happening firsthand in her experience as an abortion provider. After spending time as a doctor on a ship for Greenpeace, she made the connection that there was a possibility for expanding international access to safe abortion without violating national laws or sovereignty. In 1999, she founded Women on Waves, an organization operating out of the Netherlands that sails around the world, providing services such as non-surgical abortion, contraception, and reproductive counseling on their ship. Because they operate out of international waters, people are able to obtain access without having to risk legal action that their country may otherwise impose on them.

Currently, Dr. Gomperts is the director of Women on Waves and is an excellent example of a woman making positive change in extremely trying circumstances. Aside from the under appreciation of abortion providers worldwide, she and Women on Waves face barriers such as the cost of running their organization, the intricate planning necessary for their work, and the inevitable issues they run into with foreign governments and global political differences. When Women on Waves sailed to Portugal, they were blocked from the port by a Portuguese Navy warship that had been ordered there by the conservative federal government. In Poland, her ship’s arrival was protested with the phrase “Welcome, Nazis”– an unfair comparison that was meant to sting, given the country’s history of suffering during World War II.

Even in often-oppressive political circumstances, Dr. Gomperts and Women on Waves continue to perform their incredibly challenging but incredibly necessary work, demonstrating that the fight for reproductive justice is alive and well. With heroes like Rebecca Gomperts and her organization, the future of reproductive health access looks brighter.

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