Słubice, a town in western Poland, is only a few hundred meters from neighboring Germany, with the River Oder flowing between the two countries and a bridge connecting them.
But when it comes to abortion law, the places could hardly be further apart. In Germany, abortion is legal and accessible. In Poland, it’s against the law except in the most extreme cases: rape, incest, when the life of woman is in danger or the fetus damaged. Doctors can refuse to perform abortions even in such cases.
Enter the abortion drone. Four campaign groups are planning to fly a small drone loaded with packages of medical abortion pills across the river on Saturday June 27, where it will be received by local campaigners.
Because the drone weighs less than 5 kg, is not being used for commercial purposes, and will remain in sight of the person flying it, it doesn’t contravene German or Polish law.
The drone will carry enough medication for two or three women. But campaigners hope it will also deliver a message about inequality. Women on Waves, one of the charities involved, has run ships in which abortions are carried out offshore from countries—including Poland—that make them unobtainable.
Poland’s restrictive abortion law sets it apart from the rest of Europe, along with Ireland and Malta, which also criminalize the practice. A recent Amnesty International report criticized Ireland for breaching women’s human rights through its blanket ban, which is even more restrictive than Poland’s law.
The drone delivery will also make very visible something that happens anyway. Women in countries where abortion is illegal still obtain them, either by traveling abroad, buying these same pills on the internet, or seeking out “backstreet” practitioners.
Put simply, the laws don’t work to eliminate or even reduce abortions. “Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates,” says the Guttmacher Institute, an NGO with a remit to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, which also calculated that in 2008, 47,000 women died as a result of unsafe abortions worldwide.