“It’s magnificent what you’re doing, to help women realize their dreams for themselves.”
Without consulting her local allies, Gomperts changed strategy. She appeared on a Portuguese talk show, held up a pack of pills on-screen and explained exactly how women could induce an abortion at home — specifying the number of pills they needed to take, at intervals, and warning that they might feel pain. A Portuguese anti-abortion campaigner who was also on the show challenged the ship’s operation on legal grounds. “Excuse me,” Gomperts said. “I really think you should not talk about things that you don’t know anything about, O.K. . . . I know what I can do within the law.” Looking directly at him, she added, “Concerning pregnancy, you’re a man, you can walk away when your girlfriend is pregnant. I’m pregnant now, and I had an abortion when I was — a long time ago. And I’m very happy that I have the choice to continue my pregnancy how I want, and that I had the choice to end it when I needed it.” She pointed at the man. “You have never given birth, so you don’t know what it means to do that.”
This article about medical abortion activist Rebecca Gomperts in this weekend’s NYT magazine is somethin’ else; it’s got everything you’d want in an action film (warships! An important package stuck at customs! The never ending fight for women’s reproductive rights!), yet stars a handful of women, chief among them Gomperts. Her initial approach to providing safe, legal abortions for women who are unable to obtain them: build a Dutch-registered ship that would be governed by Dutch law, create a mobile abortion clinic inside of it, register it as a work of art to protect it from being shut down, sail it to a country where abortion is illegal, pick women up, bring them into international waters, deliver a combination of pills that would induce miscarriage, and then send them home to miscarry without fear of persecution. HOW IS THE EXPENDABLES 3 MORE INTERESTING THAN THIS?!
That plan didn’t work, so Gomperts moved her work offshore and started Women on Waves, a “telemedicine support service” that delivers that combination of drugs to women without access to legal abortions via mail. She receives about 2,000 queries a month; about 40–60 of them come from the United States.
“Gomperts is sympathetic but firm in her refusal to get involved in the United States. “We’re sorry, the doctors of Women on Web cannot provide the service in any country with safe abortion services,” reads the response American women receive from the help desk. She told me: “I know that it’s difficult, because abortion is not accessible to them. But this is not our work. I think this is a problem the U.S. has to solve itself. There are so many resources, so much money available there for abortion rights groups, I think they should be able to work on this. Starting on paper, with changing the laws.”
This weekend, Texas nearly lost more than half of all of its clinics that provide abortion services; a federal judge blocked the motion, but the defeated side has plans to appeal. The rest of the world has Gomperts, but where is the hero that Texas — and the rest of America — needs?