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Abortion at sea | The Economist

Making abortions illegal does not stop them from happening, but it does stop them happening safely. Meet the charity taking women out to international waters where they can have safe abortions without fear of prosecution.
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This woman is about to be taken out to sea for an abortion. She faces imprisonment if she had the procedure on land. She lives in Mexico, one of many countries with strict abortion laws.

Worldwide, around one quarter of pregnancies end in abortion. Nearly half of those – around 26 million – are unsafe. In five countries, abortion is banned under all circumstances. In many more, such as Mexico, a termination is only permitted if the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk.

Dr Rebecca Gomperts is the founder of Dutch pro-choice charity ‘Women on Waves’. They believe a woman’s right to determine her pregnancy outweighs the rights of the fetus. The charity sail their boat to countries where abortion is illegal, then take women out to the safety of international waters to receive pills for an early abortion. The main aim is to draw attention to restrictive laws that criminalise abortion and push it underground.

According to the World Health Organisation, making abortion illegal does not reduce the number of terminations, but it increases the number of unsafe, backstreet abortions. Unsafe abortions account for 13% of all maternal deaths.

In 2015 Women on Waves started using drones to deliver abortion pills to countries like Poland and Northern Ireland – a stunt to draw attention to their cause. Their work angers authorities, many of which accuse Dr Gomperts of imposing her cultural values on women of different backgrounds. In some countries, women face imprisonment for having an abortion, even in cases of rape.

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