Safe and accessible abortion
During the 1970s, women activists and their allies campaigned for the right to access to safe and legal abortion in the Netherlands. They used the slogans ‘the woman decides’, ‘boss of my own belly’ and ‘remove abortion from criminal law’. After the spectacular occupation of the abortion clinic Bloemenhove in 1976 and years of activism and lobbying, abortion was legalised in the Netherlands in 1981. From that moment, many Christian politicians have been trying to weaken the Dutch abortion law. They want to narrow the time frame in which surgical and medical abortion are legally permitted and reduce the accessibility of the procedures. Despite these efforts, Mama Cash, has received very few requests for initiatives on this issue in the Netherlands.
While activists succeeded in changing the law in the Netherlands, there are still many countries in which women have hardly any, or no voice when it comes to preventing or ending pregnancies. In many countries, abortion is illegal, and contraceptives and information on sexuality, safe sex and preventing pregnancies are taboo and are not accessible, or are difficult to obtain. Worldwide, every six minutes somewhere in the world a woman dies because of an unsafe abortion. Mama Cash has supported numerous organisations fighting for the reproductive rights of girls and women. Board member Jessica Horn praises Mama Cash’s persistent role in this field: ‘Mama Cash stayed the course. She always supported the most progressive activists’. (watch interview)
Religious feminists’ activities
Mama Cash as a secular organisation did not initially fund religious women’s organisations, but it decided in the 1990s to support some progressive religious women’s initiatives that advance feminism and women’s rights.
In many countries, the Catholic Church works against women’s rights by influencing lawmakers. In Ecuador, where abortion is illegal unless a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, Mama Cash supported women to establish an underground clinic offering safe abortions in the 1990s. In 1998, the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Poland received money for education about reproductive rights and abortion. In 2003, Mama Cash supported the feminist organisation Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Argentina. This feminist organisation of Catholic women disagrees with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sex, sexuality and reproductive health and rights. It advocates that women should have access to safe and legal abortion services and affordable and reliable forms of contraceptives.
The abortion boat
Near the end of the 1990s, the Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts asked Mama Cash for help. Gomperts wanted to draw both political attention and the attention of the media to a woman’s right to legal and safe abortion. She was determined to support women’s rights organisations in countries where abortion was illegal, to expose the dangers women face while having an illegal abortion and to force a national discussion about the issue.
Gomperts needed funds to conduct a study about the feasibility of housing an abortion clinic on a ship. In international waters, a Dutch ship would be treated as being in Dutch territory and would only answer to Dutch laws. Mama Cash and members of Women with Inherited Wealth supported Women on Waves, as the initiative was called. At first, they supported the project development and research about the legislative implications. Later they also supported the ship to set sail to countries that prohibited abortion, where crew provided sexual education and offered the abortion pill to pregnant women outside of territorial waters.
At the request of local women’s organisations, the abortion boat has sailed to Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Morocco and Spain, among other countries. On several occasions, governments, including the Dutch government, have tried to ban the activities of Women on Waves. The international press has followed every move of the boat, and this put abortion in the spotlight and on the political agenda.
In 2007, the Portuguese organisation Médicos Pela Escolha (‘Doctors for Choice’) received a grant from Mama Cash to train doctors in the provision of abortion care. This came after many successful actions of local women’s groups working together with Women on Waves. Today, both in Portugal and in Spain, abortion is legal. In Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Pakistan, with Mama Cash’s financial support, Women on Waves has helped to set up ‘Safe Abortion Hotlines’.
Online abortion pill
The organisation Women on Web, founded by Women on Waves, set up an online abortion service to help women get the abortion pill, even in countries where medical abortion is illegal. Johanna, a member of the network Women with Inherited Wealth, still has a smile on her face when she thinks about how her donations helped women to get the abortion pill and tricked the authorities and subverted their objections to the abortion boat. (watch interview)
The movement for the right to safe abortion has been growing in various parts of the world. In Latin America, there are initiatives fighting for both better laws and offering information and services. This way the lengthy political lobbying process continues, while women and girls who need a safe abortion can now get help. In place of a ‘normal’ abortion, the abortion pill may be prescribed as a safe means to terminate a pregnancy. Many of the organisations that start these initiatives are run by young women. For example, the Coordinadora Juvenil por la Equidad de Género in Ecuador and Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuitoin Argentina, both supported by Mama Cash. Their fight for safe and legal abortion is a part of the broader movement to secure women’s rights to bodily autonomy and choice.
Asia and Africa
In 2008, the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership was founded with members in fifteen Asian countries. The members of Asia Safe Abortion Partnership have a double strategy as well: they lobby for legal abortion by putting abortion on the agenda of regional sexual and reproductive rights and health movements, and they set up structures and networks that can help women access safe abortion even while legal changes may be long in coming.
In Africa an abortion movement is gathering force. In Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, the Réseau d’Afrique Centrale pour la Santé Réproductive des Femmes works together with midwives and local women’s groups to provide information and set up an infrastructure for safe abortion. In the meantime, Women on Waves is extending her networks: she has started working together with women’s organisations in Kenya, as well as Uganda and Malawi.