The “abortion boat” steams toward Ireland

Women on Waves will provide medical abortions to women in international waters.

Topics: Abortion,

Earlier this week, a 100-foot converted fishing trawler, christened the “Aurora” but also widely referred to as the “Sea of Change,” left the Dutch port of Scheveningem for Ireland. The Aurora belongs to a women’s human rights organization called Women on Waves, which was founded by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts. Since leaving the Netherlands, the ship — which was due to dock June 14 at Dublin’s Sir John Rogerson’s Quay — has been besieged by bad weather and worse news.

The Aurora carries aboard it two Dutch doctors, one Dutch nurse and the “A-portable,” a mobile gynecological unit fitted inside a shipping container equipped to provide nonsurgical abortions to women living in countries where abortion is illegal. The Aurora, which is registered in the Netherlands, is subject to Dutch law while in international waters; so Irish women wishing to terminate their pregnancies will be taken 12 miles offshore where they will be administered RU-486, otherwise known as the “abortion pill.” Gomperts devised this plan while working as a doctor on Greenpeace’s anti-whaling vessel the Rainbow Warrior.

The Aurora’s crew planned to spend three weeks in Ireland educating women and healthcare providers on reproductive health and family planning as well as providing medical abortions to as many as 20 women per day before continuing on to Brazil. Two days after the ship set sail, however, Holland’s Justice Minister Benk Korthals told the Dutch Parliament that “abortions are illegal without a license,” and that the Aurora’s medical staff could face a fine and four and a half years in prison if it is determined that they performed unlicensed abortions. The Women on Waves foundation reportedly applied for a license before leaving the Netherlands, but set sail before receiving it.

According to Women on Waves’ spokesperson Joke van Kampen, who spoke to Salon yesterday from Dublin, the organization has asked the government to clarify which laws apply to them.

“The government is investigating in cooperation with us,” she says. “They never used the word ‘illegal’ in reference to us. What he said was that performing illegal abortions in the Netherlands can result in four years in jail. When we get back to the Netherlands, they will inspect the clinic closely.”

Van Kampen said that the upcoming government investigation will not alter the foundation’s plans to provide offshore abortions to Irish women “where medically appropriate.”

“It won’t affect it at all,” van Kampen said. “It might affect Women on Waves and the position of the doctors, but it does not in any way affect our clients in Ireland.”

Korthals has said that no action can be taken until the boat returns to the Netherlands.

As storms delay the ship’s arrival, Human Life International, an Irish pro-life group, says it is coordinating the launch of a counter-mission, “Operation Babe-watch.” The group’s director, Patrick McCrystal, told the Belfast News Letter, “We have commissioned a lifeboat to sail and offer a ‘life’ alternative to women instead of death. We are offering practical pregnancy counseling on our boat, priestly spiritual assistance on board and guaranteed practical help and support during and after a woman’s pregnancy.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Michael Cox — whose boat, the Little Bishop, is normally chartered for offshore baptisms and marriages — has said he will sail to meet the ship as it enters Irish waters, and has vowed to fight the ship out at sea if necessary.

“I am calling on all fishermen of good conscience and all those with ships and boats to join me on this,” Cox has said.

Van Kampen said yesterday that the crew of the Aurora has not encountered any seafaring pro-life activists. It has been reported, however, that Aurora’s crew may be issued bulletproof vests to protect them against possible hostilities.

Ireland is one of three remaining European countries, along with Poland and Malta, where abortion remains illegal. At least 6,000 women per year travel to England each year to obtain abortions.

According to Women on Waves, approximately 25 percent of the world population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, yet about one-third of all pregnancies are unplanned and one-fourth of all pregnant women worldwide choose to terminate pregnancy. The World Health Organization estimates that of the 53 million abortions performed annually, 20 million of them are performed illegally under unsafe conditions.

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>