According to the World Health Organization, 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion worldwide each year; 18.5 million of these occur in developing countries. Of those, 47,000 women die each year from complications, close to 13 percent of all maternal deaths.
"I think of medical abortion as a miscarriage –- that’s what it is," said Gomperts. "In any pregnancy, there is a 20 percent change it will end in miscarriage and you have complications that it can be incomplete and some vacuum extraction is needed."
The procedure is explained in the film: Women are given 12 pills in all, which are dissolved every four hours by mouth. Cramping and bleeding begin, as well as fever, nausea and vomiting. Gomperts advises women to seek medical attention if fever lasts more than 24 hours or there is extreme pain. The completed abortion needs to be confirmed with a pregnancy test three weeks later.
"If she goes to the hospital, the woman can say she had a miscarriage and the doctor will never know," said Gomperts. "They are not breaking the law."
Two years after the Women on Waves campaign in 2007, abortion was legalized in Portugal; laws were changed in Spain in 2009.
In the film, Gomperts ultimately realizes she can use the Internet to bypass laws and creates Women on Web, where women can buy the drugs online and learn how to use them safely. She also launched a grassroots campaign in Africa and other parts of the developing world to make these drugs more available to women and to train volunteers.
"I started thinking about the bigger good," said Gomperts.
Director Whitten hopes “Vessel” will also have an impact in the United States and perhaps help “change the landscape” in Texas, where pro-abortion rights advocates plan to rally at the film's premiere.
“I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I suppose anything could happen. We have been working with a consortium in Austin of reproductive rights organizations. The goal of the film is to have them use the film as a tool for their agenda and to raise awareness and help educate and inspire people to join the movement.”