When people make up a story about a military exercise and then lock up a port just to keep you from entering a country, you are probably not their favourite person. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch activist and doctor, is one of those nuisances. In this case, to Morocco.
In early October she and her colleagues from the Dutch NGO “Women on Waves” tried to enter the harbour of Smir, approximately 40 km east of Tangier, with a sailing boat. Despite their insistence, the women were eventually escorted out of the harbour, back to international waters. Although not entirely successful in their original attempt, what they left behind was a crowd of angry women’s rights activists, an equally big number of pro-life protesters and a whole new discussion about abortion in Morocco.
About 80 women die every year from an unsafe abortion according to the World Health Organisation.
Rebecca Gompert founded the organisation “Women on Waves” with the intention to provide legal abortions for women in countries where the law forbids them. According experts, numerous abortions happen in those countries every day, despite them being illegal. It is the abortion legislation that forces women to abort pregnancies in secret and under terrible sanitary conditions. On her boat, she can ship women to international waters, where Dutch law applies. There, they can abort pregnancies up to 7 weeks with drugs. Her destinations so far have been Poland, Portugal, Spain and Ireland. Morocco was the first destination outside of Europe.
The biggest part of her work is providing information on how to do safe abortions. Wherever the “Women on Waves” go, they are welcomed with crowds of pro-choice groups and usually receive a lot of media attention, thereby often generating discussions that sometimes lead to the loosening of abortion legislation, as in Spain in 2010. Regarding Morocco, “Women on Waves” argue that such a change is urgently needed. About 80 women die every year from an unsafe abortion according to the World Health Organisation.
Until now, Moroccan law reflects the opinion of the ruling Islamist party, that abortions should not be legalised. According to them, Islam forbids practices like that and any attempt to reform the legislation would be a threat to the religious identity of Morocco. But Rebecca Gomperts will not give up trying to make a change. She’s not the kind of person who gets intimidated easily.