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Abortion Drones Use Innovation for Justice

July 6, 2015

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of human rights. The decisions to uphold the Affordable Care Act as well as the ruling in favor of marriage equality are both steps in the direction of justice. In the midst of these victories, one Dutch organization used groundbreaking technology to spread awareness and resources as the fight continues toward sexual freedom.

Women on Waves, an organization that works to provide abortions to women living in countries where it is illegal, launched the first ever “abortion drone” on Saturday, June 27. The drone took off from Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany (where abortion is legal) and landed in Slubice, Poland (where abortion is illegal). The drone delivered abortion pills to two women, who had been prescribed the pills by a doctor and took them immediately on site.

Poland’s current legal system essentially bans abortion except in dire circumstances (such as instances of rape or if the woman and/or fetus is facing serious health risks). While the drones were successful in delivering the medication, the German police did intervene at the site of the launch. According to a statement from Women on Waves, they confiscated the drone controllers, personal iPads, and they pressed criminal charges. The grounds of these charges are still unclear, as it is only illegal for a doctor to perform abortion procedures in Poland; women who terminate their own pregnancies are not accountable under the law.

Women on Waves has been traveling to countries where abortion is illegal since 2001 and providing early medical abortions outside territorial waters. The drones made a strong statement that pro-choice activists will use all materials available to fight for women’s fundamental right to health care. “I think it’s a really excellent way of calling attention to the fact that women want access to safe abortion, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get it,” Alice Mark of Ipas told RH Reality Check. The success of the drones was not just successful in the delivery, but also in the spectacle of the delivery itself.

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act was the United States’ own display of activists’ unwavering commitment to reproductive justice. The Affordable Care Act upholds coverage of abortion-inducing and contraceptive drugs without co-pay. However, many states still have laws that make abortions difficult to access. Twenty-one states have opted not to expand Medicaid, which is still a state-by-state decision under the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, many of these same states require mandatory counseling before an abortion procedure, and some also have a mandatory waiting period between counseling and the procedure. Two of these states, Wyoming and Mississippi, only have one abortion clinic in the whole state.

“The problem is that women should have access to these essential medicines locally, in their own country,” said director of Women on Waves Rebecca Gomperts to Newsweek. The World Health Organization has listed abortion pills on its model list of essential medicines for the past ten years.

Gomperts says there are no plans to do a similar demonstration in the United States, as Women on Waves focuses their efforts on countries where abortion is illegal, period. While the United States is celebrating a victory for reproductive health, the necessity of an abortion drone is not so far off. The abortion drone on Saturday only traveled about a half mile, just across the river from one country where abortion is legal and another where it is not. According to the Guttmacher Institute, one-third of U.S. women travel more than 30 miles to access abortion services.

While borders control our laws and policies, the reality of distance to access is tangible and real. While using drones to deliver medication to states like Wyoming and Mississippi may not be a long-term practical solution, Women on Waves is demonstrating how innovative thought calls attention to the fight for reproductive justice. As we celebrate our victories, we cannot forget that there is work to be done. It’s time to think outside of borders and policies, and use all means necessary to spread the message that we will not stop until there is reproductive justice for all.



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