Abortion ship to set sail

// 25 April 2007

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With right-wing activists eager to make the regulations outlining abortion more stringent, the subject continues to remain high on the feminist agenda. With concerns about how this move would impinge upon our fundamental human rights and freedom of choice, the prospect of being denied terminations means the black spectre of the past continues to loom heavily over-head, making the possibility of a return to the days where women were downing a bottle of vodka whilst saturating in a scolding-hot bath not unreal.

The Dutch, however, have attempted to find a solution to prohibition, with an ‘abortion ship’ recently granted permission by the government to sail in international waters, according to a report in The Times today.

This group, known as ‘Women on Waves,’ plans to sail to countries where abortion is outlawed, and then take women out to sea for terminations. The group was previously banned from operating in 2004 by a conservative-leaning government, although the election of the Labour party (PvdA) into the ruling coalition led to a reversal of this decision.

The ship, under current government regulations, is allowed to navigate through international waters flying the Dutch flag, handing out abortion pills to women who are no more than seven-weeks pregnant, causing them to miscarry.

The director of ‘Women on Waves,’ Rebecca Gomperts, is positive about the lifting of their ban:

“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.”

The change to portugese law in 2004 permitting women to have terminations until the tenth week of pregnancy has been attributed to the work of ‘Women on Waves.’ Following an 11-day stand-off, with the government employing the use of a navy blockade in Lisbon to stop women from procuring abortions, the ship was denied permission to dock, highlighting the unacceptable treatment of women, and leading to a reassessment of laws governing terminations.

The group blames the small Christen Unie Party (Christian Union Party) for the failure to have the permissable time for terminations extended to a twelve-week period. And they also plan to fight the condition that a partner hospital must be located in the area from which the women originate.

Although it is unfortunate that for many women, abortion is still stigmatised and they are unable to have terminations in their own country, at least this provides them with a safer means of aborting a pregnancy than the unsafe methods resorted to by women historically. This move by the Dutch is refreshing, fostering an international sense of female solidarity since women with the means to help are not only demonstrating but also fighting to uphold a duty of care to their sisters in opression throughout the world. ‘Women on Waves’ are highlighting the unacceptable treatment of women in predominantly right-wing, patriachal-run countries and showing that if we, as women, pull together then it can be overcome.

Photo by Willem Velthoven, shared under a Creative Commons License

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