The Independent (London), September 9, 2004
Portuguese Ban on Abortion
Ship Creates Furore over Womens Rights
DATELINE: MADRID -- POLITICIANS IN The Netherlands
have condemned the Portuguese government for
banning a so-called Dutch "abortion ship"
from docking in Portuguese waters.
MPs criticised the "intimidating, disproportionate
and exaggerated" reaction to the Women
on Waves campaigners, reigniting Europe-wide
criticism over Portugal's restrictive abortion
Despite the ban, Portuguese sympathisers have
chartered a boat to ferry women to the Borndiep,
which has been anchored off the port of Figueira
da Foz, near Coimbra, for nearly a fortnight.
The purpose of the ship is to provide advice,
abortion pills and contraceptives. RU-486 pills
are banned in Portugal, where women face three
years in jail for breaking one of the strict
"Portugal is not an island; it forms part
of the European space where women's rights
must be respected," said Khadija Arib,
an MP for the Dutch opposition Labour Party,
after visiting the ship. Her companion, Lousewies
Van de Laam, criticised the Portuguese for
sending a warship to keep the Borndiep at sea.
"I don't see why it's necessary to send
a warship to intimidate a tiny vessel with
a crew of six," said Ms Van de Laam, MP
for the D66 party, which is a member of the
Dutch ruling coalition.
Women on Waves, based in the Netherlands, first
began campaigning in 1999 and visited Ireland
in 2001 and Poland in 2003 to assist women
to carry out abortions. Portugal has one of
Europe's highest rates of botched clandestine
abortions - up to 40,000 a year - and teenage
Dutch gynaecologists and specialist nurses travelled
to Portugal in the Borndiep at the request
of four Portuguese women's organisations.
The government's ban, on public health grounds,
was reinforced on Tuesday by a court ruling.
It was welcomed by the far-right Defence Minister,
Paulo Portas, who likened the women's shipboard
campaign to drug trafficking. "If Portugal
allowed the ship into its waters, it would
not have authority against illegal fishing,
drug trafficking or clandestine immigration,"
Mr Portas said. "We cannot allow what
is illegal on land to be legal in our waters."
The Dutch Foreign Minister, Ben Bot, has urged
Portugal to allow the ship to dock.
Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of Women on Waves,
defied the ban by appearing on Portuguese television
to explain how to carry out an abortion safely.
Ms Gomperts told viewers of SIC morning television
on Tuesday that she had bought a drug prescribed
for rheumatism, the abortion-inducing Arthotec,
in a Lisbon chemist without prescription. She
promised to post on the campaign's website
"a scientific manual for safely inducing
abortions ... using medicine widely available
in many countries" including Portugal.
The initiative prompted the anti-abortion Portuguese
Association for Motherhood and Life to demand
Ms Gomperts be arrested on the criminal charge
of incitement to abortion.
The Young Socialists organisation plans to ferry
women to the Borndiep to receive treatment
and information. A group of doctors also plans
to make the trip on Saturday.
Portuguese feminists have mounted a petition
to reform the law, which bans abortion after
12 weeks unless the woman's life is at risk.
<< The Independent -- 9/9/04 >>
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