TIME 100: Rebecca Gomperts is among the 100 most influential people of 2020

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, founder of Women on Web and Women on Waves, has been chosen among the 100 most influential people of the world in 2020 by Time magazine.

"In this moment of fear and uncertainty, Gomperts is a beacon of hope, standing up for the principle that safe abortion is a human right "Cecile Richards wrote for Time

Rebecca’s vision to provide safe abortion beyond borders and despite restrictions has reframed the abortion debate and the terms and conditions of abortion access.

With 15 years of service, Women on Web has proved the world that telemedicine abortion is safe, effective and acceptable, and has a significant potential of increasing and ensuring access to safe abortion.

In 2018, Rebecca established Aid Access, which provides help and information for safe abortion for those living in the United States of America. With the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and the plan of President Trump to immediately replace her by an anti- abortion rights candidate, the service of Aid Access might soon become the only safe abortion service for individuals in a number of US states.

Providing abortions on the high sea and up from the sky

Rebecca has been working for abortion rights for over twenty years. She founded Women on Waves in 1999. With an abortion ship, she sailed to countries where abortion is restricted and provided safe offshore abortions. The abortion ship visited Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Guatemala and Mexico and  helped individuals with unwanted pregnancies, who have no other way to access safe abortion because of the restrictive laws of their respective countries. The campaigns increased awareness on the reality of abortion, making it much more public and visible as symbolized with the ship, rekindled debates, demonstrated solidarity, and even fostered reform leading to decriminalization of abortion in some countries.

Restricting abortions do not stop abortions from happening, they rather turn them unsafe. Working to ensure that everyone has access to safe abortion regardless of where they live, Rebecca has continued to use innovative strategies for her work and activism. Women on Waves used drones to send abortion pills across borders from Germany to Poland and from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. The abortion drones revealed the reality of abortion and invalidity of the abortion bans by creating access to the abortion pills. Later on, Women on Waves also used robots to deliver abortion pills in Northern Ireland and Poland. With it’s defiant, high-tech and women-led campaigns, Women on Waves enlarged the repertoire of abortion activism. 

Establishing the first telemedicine abortion service

In 2005, Rebecca founded Women on Web, which is the first telemedicine abortion service. Women on Web has been designed to work as an online referral service providing help and information on safe medical abortion in countries with restrictive settings. In 15 years, Women on Web answered more than 1 million emails and provided medical abortions to over 100.000 pregnant people in need. Today, Women on Web works in 17 languages and continues to answer help requests from all around the world.

Earning a Masters degree in Public Health from Princeton University and a doctoral degree in Medicine from Karolinska Institutet, Rebecca has worked with researchers from all around the world and has conducted various research to demonstrate the safety, effectiveness and acceptability of telemedicine abortion provision. Her work and activism challenged the traditional paradigms of abortion care, encouraging more research to be conducted and more services to operate in different parts of the world. 

Reframing the terms and conditions of abortion access

Today, there is enough scientific evidence showing that telemedicine abortion is safe, effective and acceptable. Research has shown that success rate and safety outcomes for abortion through telemedicine are similar to those with in-person abortion care. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that individuals can self manage their abortions in early pregnancies until 12 weeks and encouraged self-care interventions for abortion care. 

Telemedicine abortion became a silver lining amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As part of their COVID-19 response, countries like France and the United Kingdom allowed individuals to take abortion pills at home, self managing their abortions through teleconsultations. WHO in its interim guide for Maintaining essential health services: operational guidance for the COVID-19 context  recommends expanding telemedicine mechanisms for safe abortion provision, to reduce barriers that could delay care, and to minimize facility visits and provider–client contact.

Rebecca’s vision to provide safe abortion beyond borders and despite restrictions, along with the 15 years of service of Women on Web, have proved the world that telemedicine abortion is safe and effective. Today, telemedicine abortion is widely accepted and recommended by policy-makers and various international organizations.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, confronted with limited access to contraception and safe abortion care, telemedicine abortion suggests a promising paradigm for abortion care.