This Saturday, a drone packed with abortion pills will fly over Germany and drop them off at an undisclosed location in Poland, where abortion is illegal except in certain circumstances.
Women on Waves, a non-profit group of doctors and activists from The Netherlands that travels by ship to provide non-surgical abortions to women in countries where it's illegal, has teamed up with German and Polish women's groups for the project, which they say is the first of its kind.
A pilot will fly the drone from Frankfurt an der Order (which is about six hours from Frankfurt, right on the Polish border) into neighboring Slubice, Poland to women waiting to terminate their pregnancies. The exact location of the drop-off will be announced Friday, but it's already generating controversy, with pro-life groups promising to shoot the flying machines down.
"We're always looking for new ways to get through the loopholes of laws that restrict access to abortion," Rebecca Gomperts, a medical doctor who founded Women on Waves in 1999, told VICE News. She says her group has been mailing abortion pills — mifepristone and misoprostol — to women in Poland for years, but lately customs officials have been withholding them.
The pills are available in almost all other countries in Europe, but are not registered in Poland. It's against the law to take the pills there, but there are no criminal sanctions for doing so.
In 1993, the government in Poland passed laws restricting access to abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or when the woman's life, or the fetus, is in danger. Before that, women could get abortions legally.
Other countries in Europe that criminalize abortion include Ireland and Malta.
While the Polish government reports that around 744 abortions happen in the country each year, Gomperts believes that number is likely closer to 50,000. And the doctors who do perform abortions illegally usually use outdated tools and procedures, and will charge up to 4,000 euros.
"Using a drone is our way of calling attention to the realities women face and making women aware about the possibilities of abortion pills. The more women in Poland know about it, then they will know to ask for it and maybe demand change in their society," she added.
Poland was the logical first choice for the drone project because of its proximity to Germany and because of the close relationship between women's rights groups in the two countries, Gomperts says. She was inspired by new delivery services using drones announced by companies such as Google and Amazon.
"I thought, if they can do it, we can too," she said.
Several months ago, she approached members of Cocia Basia, a newly formed group in Berlin that helps women in Poland get legal abortions in Germany. Cocia Basia, which translates to "Aunt Barbara" in Polish, raises money for women to access abortion pills and other non-surgical means of abortions, or to help them travel to Germany for surgical abortions.
Sarah Diehl, one of Cocia Basia's members, told VICE News the group jumped at the chance to get involved with the abortion drone project.
"In a way, this is about shaming the Polish government, to show the absurdity of the abortion laws and to show what women have to do to get the right to choose," Diehl said. "Abortion in Poland is so stigmatized and demonized that there's nobody there who really fights for it."
"It's also to show our neighbors in Poland that women are helping each other."
Gomperts and Diehl say that while delivering abortion pills by drone isn't necessarily a sustainable solution, they hope it will shore up enough attention and mobilize activists to demand legal change. She hopes to expand the project to other countries in the future, such as the US.
But not everyone in Poland is thrilled about the drone's arrival. Gomperts says pro-life groups are planning to protest the event and are threatening to shoot it down before it lands.
Gomperts isn't bothered by this; she expected the project would be controversial.
"This is a sign that abortion rights are back on the agenda again in Poland, and this is necessary," she said.
"We'll see what happens. It's not so easy to shoot down a drone. They're efficient and speedy."
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne
Watch the VICE News Documentary, "Abortion Rights in Ireland."
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