The Women on Waves ship, traveling to Portugal to bring attention to the nation’s punitive abortion policies, has been blocked from entering Portuguese waters. The Portuguese Defense Minister has called the small commercial vessel rented by Women on Waves a “threat to national security.” Portugal’s Defense Ministry has announced that it will use force if the small ship attempts to enter the harbor. Two ships from Portugal’s Navy are circling the Women on Waves vessel. According to Women on Waves, this reaction is well outside the bounds of international law and violates standard procedures within the European Union. Women on Waves, based in the Netherlands, is led by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, the crusading Dutch doctor who is determined to make visible the suffering of women caused by outlawing abortion.
The Feminist Majority Foundation has been working with Women on Waves since its first trip to Ireland, where abortion is illegal except to save a woman’s life, three years ago. Margie Moore, director of Law Enforcement Operations for the Feminist Majority Foundation, is with Women on Waves to provide security assistance.
“Women on Waves is obviously striking a sensitive nerve. The Portuguese authorities and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church are afraid of opening the abortion debate in countries where abortion is illegal,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Women want choices and they know it. Italian women only got abortion legalized when hundreds of thousands marched in the streets and called for an abortion referendum.”
Women on Waves traveled to Portugal to raise awareness about Portugal’s strict abortion laws, and to provide medical abortions using mifepristone for Portuguese women in international waters off the coast of Portugal. The group plans to remain in international waters outside of Portugal until it receives permission to enter Portuguese waters. Women on Waves was invited to Portugal by several Portuguese women’s groups working to liberalize the country’s abortion laws.
Women on Waves last traveled to Poland, where it was able to successfully administer the first medical abortion in international waters. In both Poland and Ireland, the ship sparked a major public discussion on the abortion issue and resulted in significant increases in public support for legalizing abortion. The standoff between the small Women on Waves ship and the Portuguese Navy has already garnered significant press coverage in Portugal and in the European Union.
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