SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 12, 2014
Director: Diana Whitten
In most of the world, abortion is legally restricted, but that does not make abortions any less necessary in those countries. The strict laws just force women to rely upon black market abortions or figure out ways to take matters into their own hands. These restrictive laws have been proven time and time again by statistics to have no control over the number of abortions, they only make abortions significantly more dangerous. According to Diana Whitten’s documentary Vessel, a woman dies every ten minutes due to complications from unsafe abortion. If you do the math, that equates to approximately 47,000 women who die every year because of these laws. This should not be an issue of male politicians forcing their morality upon women, it should be about basic human rights and safety. It should really go without saying, but women are more than just vessels or baby incubators, they deserve to have a safe and healthy life. And if a government is interested in limiting the amount of abortions, there are plenty of safer and more effective ways to begin that process than by making them illegal (e.g., sex education and birth control).
Dr. Rebecca Gomperts founded Women on Waves as a way to make safe abortions more accessible. Her initial plan was to sail to countries with anti-abortion laws, and then perform legal abortions on international waters while on a boat. The logic behind this strategy was that Dr. Gomperts is from the Netherlands, where abortion is legal. Since the boat is Dutch, it abides by Dutch laws on international waters. Additionally, Dr. Gomperts plans on relying solely upon the abortion pill — actually, two pills used in tandem (Mifepristone and Misoprostol) — rather than performing surgery.
Once Women on Waves takes to the sea, however, they realize that their initial plan is probably not going to work. If a government feels strongly enough about banning abortion in their country, they are going to make it as difficult as possible for Women on Waves to provide abortions to their citizens. Dr. Gomperts smartly alters the Women on Waves mission so that they can still function despite these roadblocks. Rather than performing abortions, Women on Waves rapidly morphs into an educational network, teaching locals about political activism, abortion strategies and legal medical options. Riding a tidal wave of international publicity from their battles against the self-righteous male leaders of local governments, the Women on Waves network blossoms into something so much larger than what Dr. Gomperts could have ever anticipated when she initially left the Netherlands on this boat. Soon, they are teaching women around the world how to bypass anti-abortion laws and give themselves safe abortions with legally available pills that are approved by the World Health Organization.
For better or worse, Vessel is essentially a hero worship documentary. There is no denying that Whitten’s documentary is just going to preach to the choir and will probably not convert any naysayers, but conversion is not really Whitten’s motive. The true strength of Vessel is in its ability to channel the Women on Waves mission. For those in the audience interested in reproductive rights education, Vessel is a great place to start. More importantly, Vessel provides all of the necessary information on acquiring the legal pills needed to self-administer a safe abortion; because, as much of the Western world steps backwards in time by adopting stricter abortion laws, the education about how to have a safe abortion is becoming increasingly necessary.