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).

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • 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>