On Thursday, Moroccan authorities blocked a controversial Dutch ship that travels the world providing abortions and giving women information about safe ways to end pregnancies from entering the port of Smir. Abortion is illegal in Morocco, and the ship, led by a Dutch group called "Women on Waves," was boarded by police and escorted out of the harbor. This isn't the first time this "abortion ship" has caused a stir. Here, A guide to this group and its controversial mission:
What exactly is "Women on Waves"?
The organization was founded in 1999 by Dutch gynecologist Rebecca Gomperts with the goal of spreading information about safe abortions in nations where the procedure is frowned upon or illegal. By flying banners, handing out flyers, and setting up hotlines, the group works "to draw attention to the toll of unsafe abortion worldwide," says Michelle Goldberg at The Daily Beast. It also offers women abortion medication on the ship while it sits in international waters. The ship has carried out campaigns in Ireland, Poland and Spain, and in 2004 was banned from entering Portugal's waters.
The Moroccan government estimates that between 600 and 800 abortions are performed illegally in the country every day, only 250 of which are carried out by licensed doctors. Women on Waves wants to raise awareness about a drug called misoprostol, which Gromperts says is easy to obtain and can be used to safely end early pregnancies. That way, women don't have to resort to dangerous surgical procedures performed by unqualified practitioners. "It's really cheap, but the problem is that women don't know about it," Gomperts tells The Daily Beast.
And this group performs abortions, too?
Yes, in international waters. While abortion is illegal in Morocco, provisions in Dutch law allow doctors to provide counsel and medical abortion to women who are up to six-and-a-half weeks pregnant, so long as they're outside the territorial waters of countries that outlaw the procedure. "We are only treating women in international waters. We're on a Dutch ship, where Dutch law applies," Gunilla Kleiverga, a gynecologist with the group tells Your Middle East.
What do Moroccans have to say about the ship?
By midday Thursday, nearly 300 protesters had gathered to demonstrate against Women on Waves, according to AFP. Many of them carried pictures of bloody embryos and shouted "terrorist and "assassin." A 23-year-old activist named Abdessamad Zilali said: "We are here because we cannot accept these values, the values of massacre."
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