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What This Doctor Is Doing For Women

While women's health and reproductive rights in the United States are the subject of much current political debate, Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts, 49, has been taking the cause into her own hands for nearly two decades.

Gomberts is founder and director of Women on Waves, an organization that uses innovative and elaborate means to deliver contraception, training, counseling and the abortion pill to women in countries where it is prohibited.

Her team have sailed ships beyond territorial waters around Ireland, Morocco and Spain, among other places, so citizens of these countries could come aboard for non-surgical abortions.

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Last month, Woman on Waves used drones to deliver abortion pills to Poland, where abortion is illegal and, according to local news sources, "the law prosecutes doctors that cause the death of a mother's unborn child, not the women who have an abortion."

Gompert, a mother herself, says she is a doctor first and an activist second. She says the abortion pill— mifepristone and misoprostol—can be safely used to terminate pregnancies up to 12 weeks at home, without medical supervision.

Gomperts does not dismiss feelings of people who, because of their moral or religious convictions, disagree with abortion.

She has created an international network to help women around the world find a means of getting the abortion pill. "Women are dying and suffering health problems. Human rights are being violated," says Gomberts. "It's ridiculous."

"We are not selling drugs," she clarifies. "We are a referral service; we help women get a medical abortion at home. But they risk prosecution if it's illegal in their country."

People are too judgmental about abortion, Gomperts says.

"For me, it's obvious that it's a selfless decision. There are women who, if they had the right conditions, may make a different choice," she said. "But when women really find they don't have what it takes to raise a child in a good situation, then abortion is a very moral decision."

For Gomperts, it's also about social justice. "If you want to make sure that the well-being of women is being guaranteed, you have to legalize abortion. The problem with many health issues today, including abortion, is that it comes down to who has the means to access the care," she said. "It has to do with the role of woman in society."

Otherwise, you are valuing the life of the fetus over the woman.

For example, the population in Turkey has declined because women are getting more education and are having fewer children, so access to contraception is limited. "So women are used for political purposes," she said. "Women are instruments."

Gomperts does not dismiss feelings of people who, because of their moral or religious convictions, disagree with abortion.

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"I understand there are those who sincerely believe that life starts at conception and that the life without a voice needs to be protected," she says. "I don't think a fetus is an independent life form." Otherwise, you are valuing the life of the fetus over the woman. "But it's a belief. It's not a science. And in a society you can't impose these kinds of beliefs on other people."

But with this issue, she said feelings override evidence, which is dangerous. "It's not about facts; it's about emotions."

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