An “abortion ship” is planning to sail to countries where the practice is illegal and take women out to sea for terminations after the Dutch Government lifted restrictions banning it from international waters.
Rebecca Gomperts, the director of Women on Waves, told The Times: “We have just received the licence and there are some restrictive conditions but, yes, we are going to prepare a new campaign, that is for sure.
“We are in touch with women’s organisations in several different countries. There are still three countries where abortion is illegal in Europe but there are also invitations from Argentina and some other South American countries.”
Under the terms of its licence, the group is able to sail under the Dutch flag in international waters and hand out “abortion pills” for women up to seven weeks pregnant, causing them to have a miscarriage.
The group had been banned effectively since 2004, when restrictions were imposed by the previous, conservative-leaning Dutch Government. But the election of the Labour Party (PvdA) into the ruling coalition led to a relaxation of the rules.
The group was said to be the catalyst for a change of the law in Portugal to allow abortion until ten weeks into pregnancy after an international incident in 2004. During an 11-day stand-off, the Government ordered a navy blockade of Lisbon to stop the group from collecting women to have their pregnancies terminated. The Dutch Government asked for permission for the boat to dock but was refused. “It sent a clear signal to the EU that the law in Portugal was not an acceptable way to treat women,” said Ms Gomperts, a medical doctor.
The abortion boat visited Ireland in 2001 and Poland in 2003. In 2004 the Dutch Ministry of Health ruled that it could operate only within a 25km (15mile) radius of a named Amsterdam hospital, effectively banning the ship from operating outside the Netherlands.
Women on Waves blames the third member of the Dutch coalition, the small Christen Unie Party, for thwarting its attempt to have the permissible period of abortion that it can provide extended from seven to twelve weeks. It has also vowed to fight another limitation, that a partner hospital must be found in the region from where its clientele come.
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