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From the Sea to Cyberspace and Beyond

23/05/2016 17:23 | Updated 23 May 2016

tech-for-good

Women on Waves (WoW) is an international NGO that promotes access to safe abortion in countries where this type of comprehensive reproductive healthcare service is severely restricted.

WoW is primarily known in popular media for its ships campaigns, a direct action method that provides women with the option for a safe termination of pregnancy. While each ship campaign can help a few women and put the issue of unsafe abortion on the political agenda of a particular country, it is not a long-term solution to solve a systematic failure that inhibits women from accessing a basic healthcare service. The emergence of the Internet and the global proliferation of its use dramatically changed the way in which WoW could further its mission for human rights.

In 2006, Women on Web (the sister organisation of Women on Waves), was founded as an international telemedicine abortion service. The project was motivated by a response to emails from women worldwide with unwanted pregnancies and without safe options for treatment. Women who need access to safe medical abortion can fill out an online consultation at www.womenonweb.org that is then evaluated by a physician. The Internet became the tool through which women could obtain a needed medical service. Women on Web's approach to patient-centered telemedicine has become a self-sustaining model for ten years that has helped hundreds of thousands of women.

While Women on Web can provide access for individuals who have access to the Internet, there are also many social and geographic contexts in which this framework is not applicable. As a result, WoW wanted to find another way to spread accurate scientific information and offer options for women who could not access the platform that relies exclusively on the Internet. In 2015, WoW launched an application titled "Safe Abortion" that can be downloaded in the ITunes and the Google Play store respectively. Individuals can select a specific language and country to learn about the law, the availability of abortion pills, and what clinics or organisations may be able to provide assistance. The app also includes a pregnancy calculator and an animation in 12 languages of how women may terminate an early pregnancy using misoprostol. This is currently the only pro-choice app on the digital market. While the app requires an Internet connection to be downloaded, the use of the app itself does not require this. Therefore, the app is a tool that can reach out to a different demographic of users.

In 2015, Women on Waves made a transition from the high seas to the sky, exchanging its trademark ship for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), as they offer a new potential in the technology of transport. Women on Waves decided to test this theory by re-appropriating the UAV as a delivery vehicle of essential medicines. While termination of pregnancy is available in Germany, the law deems the exact same medical procedure illegal once over the neighboring border in Poland.

With a spirit determined to trail blaze through the clouds, reminiscent of Amelia Earhart's landmark solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, 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, prescribed by a physician. Mifepristone and Misoprostol induce a medical abortion. Taken together, these medicines cause a miscarriage.  According to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, women can complete a medical abortion safely at home until nine weeks of pregnancy.

The goal of this campaign was to reveal how a European woman's fate changes drastically from one side of a river to the other. WoW sought to illustrate the arbitrary nature of the physical border and highlight the urgent situation for women in Poland. The drone became the muse for this narrative: an evil villain transformed into the ultimate protagonist of hope and freedom.

While there are daunting barriers to reach clients in certain contexts, WoW has always been fiercely committed to using creative solutions as a means to navigate around seemingly insurmountable barriers. Current advancements in Internet technology and beyond offer new resources to provide safe and affordable access to medical abortion. These emerging tools are essential for the constant adaptation and growth of the organisation. While the strategies that WoW employs will continue to evolve, they fuel the same fundamental desire to provide a necessary healthcare service for those who need it most, anywhere and everywhere in the world.

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