On 27 June, 2015 the world's first Abortion Drone flew from Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany across a river to Slubice, Poland. The drone delivered packets of abortion pills to two Polish women, waiting for its arrival. As required by law, a physician prescribed the medicines. A medical abortion is induced with two different medicines: Mifepristone and Misoprostol. Taken together, these medicines induce a miscarriage. According to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, women can do a medical abortion safely at home until nine weeks of pregnancy.
Upon landing in Poland, the packages were removed from the small air carrier. The women swallowed the pills in front of a crowd, publicly exercising their human right to control their own bodies. Back on the opposite side of the river, German police confiscated the drone controllers and personal iPads. The German Police threatened to press charges, although they did not cite the specific reason. The abortion drone did not violate any laws as it stayed within view of the person flying it, was under five kilograms, was not flying in a controlled airspace, and was not being used for commercial purposes.
The Abortion Drone campaign was a collaboration between Women on Waves, Cocia Basia, Fundacij Feminteka, Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca, Berlin-Irish Pro Choice Solidarity, Codziennik Feministyczny, and Twoj Ruch. These Dutch, German, and Polish groups came together in order to show the reality for women in Poland who need access to safe abortion services.
The history of abortion in Poland is unique. Abortion was legal on demand up until 1993. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, access to abortion became severely restricted. This sudden change in government policy was homage to Pope John Paul II for the significant role he played in ending Communist regime. Once a safe and available medical service, abortion went immediately underground. Today, even in cases where abortion would legally be allowed, like when a woman's health is at risk, the Polish Healthcare Service often refuses to help women. While the official abortion number is only 744, estimates of the World Health Organisation are at least 44 per 1000 women in child-bearing age have an abortion every year in Poland.
Women on Waves is primarily recognized for its ships campaigns, sailing to countries where abortion is illegal. Twelve miles from the coast of a country at sea is international waters, where the law that governs a ship is the national law of the country in which it is registered. Therefore, on a Dutch ship, Dutch law applies and the abortion pill can be administered legally. Since 2001, Women on Waves has sailed to Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. The group has initiated safe abortion hotlines in Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Pakistan, Indonesia and trained grassroots women's organizations in several African countries. It has also used innovative strategies with grassroots mobilization, internet, applications and art to draw much needed public attention to the consequences of restricted access to reproductive health services.
The Abortion Drone is the newest strategy using modern technology to deliver medical abortions to women in need. The direct action of the Abortion Drone was not about inciting a glamorous scandal between the German - Polish border, although it was indeed daring and provocative. The goal was to reveal, in a very tangible way, the situation for women in Poland compared to the circumstances for women in European countries where abortion is legal and available. A drone is the vessel of contemporary warfare that most effectively proliferates destruction. To take the ultimate unmanned weapon and find a way to use it to promote the human rights of women is radical. Women on Waves has reappropriated a vehicle of death as one that can actually deliver women their basic human rights. In years past the organisation has navigated the high seas, finding loopholes to bring choice to women all over the world. The muse of the message has transformed to new heights far above the waves, now cruising in the clouds.
You can find footage and images of the Abortion Drone here
Vessel: award-winning documentary about the work of Women on Waves