On June 27th, 2015, Dutch pro-choice group Women on Waves (WoW) partnered with several groups to send the “Abortion Drone” from Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany to Słubice, Poland to deliver Mifepristone and Misoprostol—the two drugs normally used in a medical abortion.
According to a release on WoW’s website, the delivery was the result of a collaboration between several groups--Women on Waves, Cocia Basia, Feminteka Foundation, The 8th of March Women’s Right Informal Collective, Berlin-Irish Pro Choice Solidarity (BIPCS), Codziennik Feministyczny, and Twoj Ruch. The release goes on to mention the symbolic importance of the delivery. “The Abortion drone will mark the different reality for Polish women to access to safe abortion services compared to other women in Europe,” it says, “In almost all European countries, abortion is legal, only in Poland, Ireland and Malta abortion is illegal and women’s rights are still violated.”
WoW did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
As the delivery date drew closer, there was talk on social media of possibly shooting down the drone in order to stop the delivery.
BIPCS was present on the ground in Poland on the day of the delivery, and supported the event via social media that day. In a statement provided to QFP, they say that the groups who organized the delivery had heard about the threats to shoot down the drone, “…but no one took them too seriously.” They note that though German police did confiscate the drone controller, it did not affect the delivery, and the general public responded “pretty well” to the day’s events.
Reports now say that the Abortion Drone has Ireland in its sights.
In June, Newsweek first mentioned the plans for a delivery to Ireland. The following month, the Independent followed up with an article which confirmed plans for the delivery, and described people’s early responses. According to their article, “The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the Gardaí have warned that any drone drop of abortion pills could result in prosecutions.”
BIPCS believes that the effects of a delivery to Ireland would be similar to what was seen in Poland. Though they mention in their statement that they will not be involved in the delivery to Ireland, they say that “…it is the same principle.”
Some Irish activists and medical professionals would beg to differ.
Galway Pro Choice (GPC) is “…a campaign group which stands for full reproductive freedom and justice for all people in Ireland.” They believe that Irish women are treated as “second class citizens” and so they work to "challenge this patriarchial status quo." In a statement provided to QFP, they are optimistic about the effects of a possible drone delivery to Ireland, and make the argument that Ireland would be a good candidate for a delivery as “...abortion laws are even more restrictive, indeed, they crimialise women.” They go on to mention that women who attempt to procure the same pills online run the risk of the risk of the pills not being delivered, or risk a 14 year long prison sentence if the pills are delivered and the woman is caught.
GPC knows that a drone delivery will not solve the problems faced by Irish women who find themselves in need of an abortion. In their statement, they say that they “…are fully aware that this action will not change abortion legislation overnight…” but stress the fact that “…it will bring international attention and pressure to a very urgent situation.” A drone delivery would get the conversation started, but GPC believes that in order for there to be “real change” in Ireland, there needs to be the "political will." They note the fact that polling shows that the public would back efforts to liberalize abortion legislation.
The people are talking. Now GPC and many others hope that politicians will start listening.
In a statement provided to QFP, Doctors for Choice makes many of the same points made by GPC. They understand why such seemingly simple solutions to procuring abortion pills might seem appealing at first, but they also take the time to highlight some of the problems with such a scenario. They note that:
Doctors for Choice is aware of women in Ireland procuring abortion pills online through services such as Women on Web. Though understandable given the Irish State’s failure to repeal the 8th Amendment, this scenario is highly unsatisfactory as this process risks a criminal sanction for the woman in question and also carries the possibility of a complication due to a safe medical procedure being driven underground.
The statement continues, noting that early medical abortion “is normally extremely safe. The problem then, according to Doctors for Choice, is not with the procedure itself, but with the fact that it is completely unregulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and is not supervised by a health professional.
Like GPC, Doctors for Choice would ultimately like to see the Irish abortion issue handled IN Ireland. “Doctors for Choice believes that all women should have access to abortion services that are free, safe and legal within the Irish state,” they say, “If a comprehensive reproductive health care service was legally available in Ireland, women would not find it necessary to depend on services such as Abortion Drone or Women on Web.”
Still, there are other organizations which believe that an Abortion Drone delivery to Ireland will have no effect on the abortion debate and related discourses in the country.
Abortion Support Network (ASN) helps women in need of abortions in both in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by providing financial assistance and helping to arrange travel to England for the procedure.
Mara Clarke, Director of ASN, believes that the Abortion Drone project “…will have zero effect” on the abortion debate in Ireland. In an email exchange, she notes that first off, women residing in Ireland can already obtain abortion pills online via Women on Web and Women Help Women, assuming they “…are under 9 weeks pregnant, have internet access, and aren’t scared to death of getting caught and sentenced to 14 years in prison.” She goes on to note that a drone delivery might reduce the number of women obtaining the pills online, but is quick to add that “…this is assuming the drone is able to make multiple trips to multiple countries, in a way that is less expensive and easier for women to access pills than online.”
Ultimately, Clarke makes the argument that Irish women are still more likely to travel to get abortions, and provides the following list of reasons in her email:
- They are terrified of taking pills from the internet (I doubt they would be less terrified of taking pills from an abortion drone).
- They are terrified someone will see the package and report or shame them (Again, not solved by a drone).
- They don’t like early medical abortion and want a surgical abortion.
- They are more than 9 weeks pregnant.
None of this is to say that Clarke believes that the Abortion Drone project has no merit. “I LOVE the abortion drone project,” she says, “I like any project that helps raise awareness of the issues faced by those in countries where abortion is severely restricted, and I love innovative problem solving.”
Susan Yanow has worked to help women access early medical abortion (EMA) in many countries for a number of years now. In an email exchange, she acknowledges the fact that the Abortion Drone delivery to Poland did help to call people’s attention to the lack of access in Poland, but she emphasizes the fact that it was a “media event.” She notes that the women who took the pills did not use the correct WHO protocol when they swallowed all of the pills at once. Additionally, she notes that the women who took the pills were not actually pregnant—a fact which was only mentioned by a handful of media outlets.
Yanow also questions the practicality of using a drone to deliver abortion pills. “In reality, drones are easy to track,” she says, “It is extremely unlikely that a woman who was actually pregnant in Ireland or N. Ireland (Northern Ireland) would risk detection.” If caught, the consequences could be dire. For example, Yanow references the relatively recent case of a woman in Northern Ireland who was arrested for using abortion pills. If a woman were caught seeking an abortion in the Republic of Ireland, she could face a prison sentence of 14 years. “So drones will not make abortion more accessible for women,” she concludes.
Yanow’s solution to the situation faced by women in both Northern Ireland and the Republic is simple. “The conversation on abortion will change when all of us focus on women as people, who have value beyond our potential to reproduce,” she says.
On September 26th, the fourth annual March for Choice will take to the streets of Dublin, Ireland as part of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. As the last March for Choice before the next general election in Ireland, many are also viewing the march as an opportunity to once again stress to politicians the importance of repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution—an amendment which “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn,” and turns abortion into a criminal act. Will a delivery by the Abortion Drone help to tip the scales of justice in favor of the Irish pro-choice lobby? Or will they need something more?