April 2016: Women on Waves

About two months ago, as our son Trevor was being evacuated from El Salvador (Peace Corps closed its program there due to violence) and our daughter Leah continued with her work in Guatemala, we watched as the Zika crisis heated up in the region. It was becoming clear that the virus transmitted by mosquitos is linked to microcephaly, a serious birth defect.

In response, El Salvador announced that women should not get pregnant in the next two years. This, in a country where abortion is illegal and contraception is against the mainstream Catholic church.

El Salvador’s advice to stop having children for two full years struck many experts as particularly sweeping, leaving them to wonder when else a nation has tried to halt its birthrate in the face of an epidemic. “I can tell you that I have never read, heard, or encountered a public request like that,” said David Bloom, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.                                                                           New York Times, 1/25/16                                                                               

Fortunately, an organization called Women on Waves stepped up. Women on Waves is a Dutch pro-choice nonprofit created in 1999 by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who set sail on a ship to provide abortions in international waters, where a country’s bans do not apply. Gomperts later founded Women on Web, an online support service that helps women obtain and safely take medications to induce abortion. In February, Women on Waves announced they were sending a boat to El Salvador.

Someone said to me, why don’t women who can afford it just fly to the U.S.? The problem with this is that getting a visa to the U.S. is time-consuming and sometimes impossible; you have prove you have assets, money in the bank, and a compelling reason to return.

A doctor I know, who was involved in regulating RU 486 (one of the “morning-after” pills used for a medication-induced abortion), said that medication-induced abortions should be done only in the presence of medical personnel. This is not an option for women where abortion is illegal.

So what I wonder is, will Zika change the debate about women’s reproductive freedom?

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