Abortion on the high seas

A conversation about abortion rights, international law and filmmaking


Fields of Knowledge
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Politics / Economics
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Penn Family Planning & Pregnancy Loss Center, Women's Medical Fund

Contributing Institutions

Penn Cinema Studies Program, Film Sprout and Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania


Aaron Levy, Courtney Schreiber, Judy Walker


Department of English and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public





Meyerson Hall B1
210 South 34th Street
Philadelphia PA, 19104


25% Formal - 75% Informal

Slought, the Penn Family Planning & Pregnancy Loss Center, and Women's Medical Fund are pleased to announce a special event about abortion rights, international law, and filmmaking, organized on the eve of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The event will take place on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 from 6:00-9:00pm at PennDesign on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania (Meyerson Hall B1, 210 South 34th Street, Philadelphia PA, 19104), and is presented in partnership with the Penn Cinema Studies Program, Film Sprout and Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The event will feature a public conversation with filmmaker Diana Whitten of The Vessel, journalist Emily Bazelon of The New York Times, and film scholar Patricia White of Swarthmore College, moderated by Dr. Courtney Schreiber of Penn Medicine. The conversation will be preceded by a special screening of The Vessel (88 minutes; 2014), which recently premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival and won the Audience Award and a Special Jury Award for Political Courage.

The film documents the life and work of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a young doctor who, horrified by the realities created by anti-abortion law around the world, felt compelled to found the organization Women on Waves and provide abortions on a ship in offshore waters. Her actions begin as a flawed spectacle and a media frenzy quickly ensues, and she is quickly faced with governmental, religious, and military blockades. But with each setback a more refined approach and methodology develops, until Gomperts has the revelation that she can use new technologies to bypass and discover loopholes in the law, by training women to give themselves safe abortions using WHO-sanctioned protocols with pills. In the film, we witness the creation of an underground network of emboldened and informed activists who are working at the cutting edge of global reproductive rights, and who are transforming a wildly improbable idea into a global movement by trusting women to handle abortion themselves.

read more

Emily Bazelon is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a senior editor at Slate. Her cover article "The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion" appeared in the August 28, 2014 issue of the magazine.

Courtney Schreiber, MD, MPH is Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She directs the family planning training programs.

Patricia White is Professor and Chair of Film and Media Studies at Swarthmore College. She co-authored the film studies textbook The Film Experience (2014) and is on the boards of Camera Obscura and Film Quarterly.

Diana Whitten is the director of The Vessel, her first feature film. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Indonesia, and was Director of Communications at Ford Foundation's International Fellowships Program.

Further reading

From Slought's 2011 interview with Dr. Rebecca Gomperts (read more), to Women's Medical Fund 2005 Award, the organizations coming together to present this event have a history of raising awareness about Women on Waves and women's rights in general.

For additional resources and information:

-- "Rights Don't Equal Access" Abortion Infographic, by Ms. Foundation for Women

-- "Induced Abortion Worldwide" Factsheet, and "Banning Abortion Endangers Women's Health" Infographic, by Guttmacher Institute

-- Women's Medical Fund website

-- Women on Waves website