The Dutch support group ANA (Abortion Network Amsterdam) helps women from European countries where abortion is a punishable offence or when it is only legally allowed until 12 weeks, to come to the Netherlands and have an abortion here.
“The women who come here from, for instance Poland, sometimes drive to the Netherlands in one night,” tells Marina, one of the founders of ANA. “In the morning, we accompany them to the clinic for the procedure. If they were not able to get more than one day off work, they go back the same day. There are also women who do stay a few nights. In that case, Marina arranges overnight accommodation together with her fellow volunteers via the network of friends connected with ANA. In addition, ANA always provides something to eat upon arrival and a volunteer interpreter who goes along to the appointment at the clinic.”
Stigma, fear and guilt
“Most women are tense when they arrive,” according to Marina. “You’re made to feel scared in Poland. The church continues to propagate the story that you are murdering a child if you have an abortion. There is a lot of stigma, also in the media. Doctors who see that you are considering an abortion do their utmost to make you feel guilty.”
Fortunately, women who opt for an abortion in spite of this opposition, are able to come to the Netherlands thanks to ANA. The volunteers at ANA do their best to make the women feel that this is a normal and safe operation here, which is not a punishable offence and which you don’t need to feel ashamed about.
“However, our support is mainly practical, not emotional. It can, of course, be intense for a woman, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The stigma surrounding abortion has turned it into something emotional. For us, it’s clear: the women must be able to decide. Full stop. We explain to the women that it’s totally OK here, that they don’t have to be scared and don’t have to feel guilty. Or we offer emotional support. It depends on the person. If we sense that someone doesn’t need that, we certainly don’t force that on them.”
A support network of friends
The idea behind ANA was born during the F Word Festival in 2017. An activist from Poland and someone from Women Help Women attended a workshop. That is how Marina and her friends heard about a support organisation from Berlin, Ciocia Basia, that sends Polish women to England for an abortion if they have had an unwanted pregnancy longer than 12 weeks. The group predicted problems with this due to Brexit. “We then thought: why don’t we get the women to come to the Netherlands? Dutch women are in the fortunate position of being able to have an abortion up until 22 weeks, in England that is even up until 24 weeks. That shouldn’t be a luxury, but that is the case. During that same festival, we organised a meeting with people who were interested in setting up a support network together.”
After a website was set up, the first women soon began sending emails. “We learned by doing: what kind of cases we could come across; how long the waiting lists at the abortion clinics are; that we sometimes even need to arrange a babysitter for the women who bring their children with them. Each case is different. We helped about 35 women get an appointment with the clinic in one year. And not only women from Poland. Also from the rest of Europe. Someone even flew all the way to the Netherlands from Brazil recently. It was easier for her to fly here than to the US.
An abortion costs between 800 to 1,000 euros. The woman from Brazil had enough money, so she paid all the costs herself. However, ANA often has to pay for the abortion for women who come from Poland. “We organise parties to raise money. We are then able to finance one or more abortions with the proceeds from the entrance fees and bar sales. We also ask for small donations. Larger amounts are not possible, unfortunately, because we’re not an official foundation. Our sister organisation in Berlin sometimes pays for part of the costs. We’re all volunteers ourselves. We don’t do it to earn money or become famous. We do it because it’s necessary. Abortion should simply be safe and available to anyone.”
The work is becoming increasingly challenging logistically. ANA sometimes receives four ‘applications’ per week. The coregroup has just eight volunteers who do the work for ANA alongside a paid job. However, it’s very important to respond in time with this type of support. “The first woman that we helped turned 16 two days before she came to the Netherlands. She waited for her birthday so she could have an abortion without consent from her mother. She had gone to a doctor in Poland, who said that she was 21 weeks pregnant. The echo that was done on arrival at the Dutch clinic revealed that she was already 33 weeks pregnant. It was too late to help her. She was a child herself. It was then that we realised why we do this. How different would things have been if we would have been able to help her in time?”
Far from ideal
According to Marina, the situation in the Netherlands is also far from ideal, even though woman do have legal access to abortion here. “First of all, not everyone has insurance that covers it. Without the right documents, the costs for the abortion are not covered. Furthermore, there are not enough clinics and there are long waiting lists. Moreover: you have to wait five days. Suppose you have already had to wait two weeks for an appointment, then you still have a five-day waiting period. That doesn’t make any sense at all. What other operation has a waiting period? None! And if it concerned a man? Would a man also be obliged to reflect on this for five days? In my opinion, that five days stems from a kind of idea that women are too emotional to make the right decision quickly.”
Safe and legal abortion
However happy Marina may be that ANA exists and that there are other organisations in the world that show solidarity to one another, she dreams of a day when all those support groups are no longer necessary; a day when other countries no longer apply restrictive conditions; when abortion is safe and legal everywhere. “If you want an abortion, you should be able to have one. Without having to give a reason for it.”