On Friday, November 9, the Friday Night Film Series, sponsored by Film and Media Studies, showcased the 2014 film “Vessel.” “Vessel” is an incredible, heart-wrenching documentary about a group of strong and dedicated women, whose mission is to empower women in countries where abortion is illegal and help them get the medical attention they seek.
After a brief introduction by Visiting Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies Eli Horwatt, the film began. It opened immediately onto a violent, mostly male crowd chanting against abortion. There is a single woman in the midst of the crowd, giving out flyers containing information on safe abortions. This woman is Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of Women on Waves. This team of women aims to bring non-surgical abortion services to the millions of women living in countries where abortion is banned as well as raise awareness about the startling statistics of women who suffer from dangerous abortions and repercussions from their rigid governments, families and loved ones.
Gomperts studied medicine and art in Amsterdam, and has always been focused on social justice. She wanted to find a way to practice medicine and advocate for social justice at the same time and had always felt strongly about a woman’s right to choose.
“How can we create a space where the only permission you need is your own?” Gomperts said.
After some research, Gomperts realized that if a ship is in international waters, the laws on the ship follow the laws of the country of the flag flown on board. Abortion is legal in the Netherlands, so by flying a Dutch flag, Gomperts could perform abortions and thus Women on Waves was born. However, this was not an easy process. In order to perform the medical procedures, a fully equipped clinic was essential as was a ship, a captain, a crew, a gynecologist and much more. This process was long and arduous, but after constructing a mobile clinic in a storage box and putting a crew together, Women on Waves was ready for their maiden voyage to Ireland.
Unfortunately, there was one specific license missing, and the media caught wind of it. The women on the ship were greeted with a media firestorm and protesters on the dock. This publicity forced the Women on Waves to retreat and did not allow them to help any of the women who reached out on the helpline, but they didn’t leave without a fight. Gomperts spoke about women’s rights to abortion with passion and strength at a press conference, and put her organization on the map as a way for women all over the world to feel empowered and protected.
The rest of the film documented the incredible journey of Women on Waves all around the world. The most striking country they visited was Ecuador. They were once again greeted by protestors, but they did not back down. Instead, they trained a group of Ecuadorian women to work on a helpline for scared women with unwanted pregnancies. By calling the helpline, you would receive information regarding the next steps to termination and counseling. With this new band of people included in the mission, Gomperts created a giant banner advertising free abortions as well as the hotline number, and hung it on the Virgin statue in Quito. This attracted hundreds of people to take photos and look on in shock as the banner waved in the wind. With this and many more similar publicity stunts, Gomperts and the rest of the women eventually raised awareness for their hotline.
Eventually, a sister organization was formed called Women on Web that offered the same confidential services that the helplines offered. Women answer the desperate emails of women all over the world and offer the support they don’t get in their home countries.
“Seeing what that organization did in Ecuador and the other countries was so amazing,” sophomore Kyra Weiner said. “I had no idea this group existed, but I am so glad that people like this exist who are empowering women all over the world.”
The heart-wrenching phone calls and emails sent to the organization daily clearly showed the dangers women with unwanted pregnancies face every day. The home-abortion methods that some women resort to often lead to death, all because their own countries refuse to see their desperation and acknowledge their rights as women. Women on Waves provided hope that there are people doing the right thing and helping others, and although this pressing issue cannot be resolved until women are granted the right to choose and the right to safe abortions all around the world, this is a strong start. “Vessel” is available on Netflix, and is absolutely worth watching.
Contact Sasha Balasanov at [email protected]