Information on abortion services and termination clinics is now available in Maltese on the website of Women on Waves, the Dutch non-profit organisation headed by Dr Rebecca Gomperts, which offers abortion services on a ship berthed in international waters to women in countries where abortion is illegal.
The website, www.womenonwaves.nl, was translated by John Zammit, campaigner in the Men’s Rights Association and Divorce Movement, and candidate for the European Parliament elections along with long-standing cohort Emmy Bezzina.
It provides weblinks for women looking for abortion as well as contact addresses for abortion clinics in Italy, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, and in the United Kingdom. According to the website, the cheapest price for an abortion, at just EUR 300 (Lm150) is in the Netherlands and Belgium. Belgian clinics also offer abortions up to twelve weeks in the pregnancy, whilst Dutch clinics can offer abortion even later into the pregnancy.
“I translated the website for Women on Waves after having corresponded and met Dr Rebecca Gomperts, and seeing that only Polish was available as an alternate language I offered to do the Maltese translation for free,” Zammit told MaltaToday. “As a journalist, the suicide of a 15-year old girl who panicked when she found out she was pregnant showed me how much the Maltese had yet to learn and face this reality, and help these women.”
According to UK statistics on legal abortions carried out under the 1967 Abortion Act, at least one woman a week on average travelled from Malta to the United Kingdom between 1991 and 2002. A total of 618 women had an abortion in the UK during those years.
Malta is one of the few European nations which considers abortion to be a criminal offence. In most of the European mainland, abortion is allowed except for Ireland, Poland and Portugal. Throughout the world abortion remains mainly illegal in South America, Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.
Rebecca Gomperts, the Dutch 38-year old gynaecologist and public health activist from the Netherlands, formed Women on Waves in 1999 with a mission to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions throughout the world through their floating abortion clinic. Using a mobile gynaecological unit, the ‘A-portable,’ Women on Waves transport the clinic on a ship, the Langenord, which drops anchor in international waters just outside countries where abortion is illegal. Women are then collected from the shore where they are taken to the ship. Legally the liberal abortion laws of the Netherlands prevail if the ship, which is registered in the Netherlands, is berthed in international waters.
Before taking her mission to the water, fear of a surprise visit by the Langenord created quite a stir in Malta, unleashing controversial debate in the media.
In its most recent campaign, the Women on Waves ship, with an almost all-female crew, sailed to Poland in June 2003, to provide abortion services to Polish women, where abortion is illegal in the staunchly Catholic former-Soviet country. The visit caused nationwide controversy in the country where abortion is only allowed to protect the mother’s life when the foetus is irreparably damaged, or in cases of rape or incest. Doctors performing abortions can be imprisoned for three years.
According to Women on Waves, it is estimated that in Poland anything between 80,000 to 200,000 illegal abortions are performed each year. During the campaign for the 2001 general election, the now-ruling Polish Democratic Left Alliance promised to liberalise abortion, but instead it sought the support of the Roman Catholic Church to join the EU. The church offered its backing on condition that the existing abortion law remained in place.