Abortion Controversy Takes to the Seas

A controversial subject in many arenas, the abortion debate is now headed into uncharted territory — the high seas.

In the tradition of offshore radio stations, tax havens, and casinos, Women on Waves, an Amsterdam-based organization, is planning to launch the world's first floating abortion clinic.

An all-female Dutch crew, including a gynecologist, will staff the vessel.

The ship itself is yet to be officially chosen but plans are in place for it to be purchased, prepared and test-sailed before the end of the of spring.

A mobile treatment room, which will be transferred and installed on the ship, is currently being constructed in the Netherlands.

Organizers plan to circumvent the laws of countries opposed to abortions by conducting them offshore in international waters.

Territorial Claims

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, coordinator of the foundation, said funding had been received from groups around the world and that the $190,000 needed for a trial run was already in place.

The ship will moor just 12 miles offshore, targeting countries where abortions are illegal or very difficult to obtain.

According to Women on Waves, two-thirds of the globe's population lives within 100 miles of port cities, so the ship will in theory be accessible to a majority of women worldwide.

The group estimates one in four women worldwide live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in cases where the mother's life is endangered.

Gomperts said performing the procedures 12 miles out to sea would place the ship under international law and not the laws of the nearest country.

Complex Jurisdictional Issues

However, some experts believe this interpretation may vary from country to country.

Gomperts says she is well aware of the challenge. "This will certainly raise questions. It has never been done before and there are some very complex jurisdictional issues."

Gomperts and her staff will live aboard the ship and hope to have facilities to provide abortions to as many as 25 women at a time. Only first-trimester abortions will be performed, and the services will be free to those unable to afford them.

Gomperts was once a ship's doctor aboard Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior and credits her service onboard that ship as the inspiration for her creation of Women on Waves. She claims that every year, there are 53 million abortions worldwide, of which 20 million are performed in unsafe conditions.

But skepticism is likely to arise over safety onboard her ship — how safe the conditions will be and how safe patients will be attempting to get to the ship. Gomperts says security measures will be just the same as if the clinic was on dry land.

"It is not dependent on one particular place, so this will be good for security," Gomperts told ABCNEWS.com. "If there is trouble, we can just move."

Anticipating Trouble

Gomperts anticipates that anti-abortion groups worldwide are less likely to be as violent as those in the United States. Only in the States do you hear of abortion clinics being bombed, she said.

But just in case, the ship intends to move around the various "come aboard" spots, as Gomperts prefers to call them, for the patients. The location of the pickup points will be kept secret.

But there is also concern that having such a procedure on water will mean the patient is subject to more health risks than if the procedure took place on land.

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