Aurora means the dawn of the day. The Dutch Abortion Ship which is the basis of the controversy taking place in Morocco was christened Aurora years back. Aurora is the rising light of the morning but the subsistence of this ship has not been accepted despite the rationale behind its actions. There is a group of Dutch activists called “Women on Waves” which helps women from countries prohibiting abortion to safely undergo the act. The organization was launched in 1999 by Dutch gynecologist Rebecca Gomperts with a goal to spread information about safe abortions in countries where it is illegal. The group took inspiration from heart-wrenching stories of women who were raped or had no means of support. Thus, they began this initiative with an Abortion Ship where they provide contraceptives, information, training, workshops, and safe and legal abortion services outside territorial waters because the local laws would not be applicable in international waters. Women on Waves use flying banners; hand out flyers, set up hotlines etc. to draw attention to the toll of insecure abortions worldwide.
The ship has carried out campaigns in Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain and it hasn’t been unproblematic in most cases. In 2004, it was banned from entering Portugal waters.
Coming back to the news story concerning Morocco, the organization said that a Moroccon youth group called The Alternative Movement For Individual Freedoms had invited the ship to the country. The boat started its journey from Netherlands on Monday, October 01, and was scheduled to dock at the Moroccon port of Smir on Thursday. But, while they were on their endeavour to enter Smir, they saw that the entire harbor had been blocked and no one was being permitted to enter. Morocco is the first Islamic country where the Women on Waves planned to visit. Moroccon government estimates that about 600 to 800 abortions are performed illegitimately in the country on a daily basis; out of which only 250 are carried out by licensed doctors. A report by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) stated that close to 78 women die in Morocco every year due to illegal abortions. Rebecca Gomperts also enlightened several news and government agencies that her team was trying to raise awareness about a drug called ‘Misoprostol’ which can be obtained without difficulty and used to terminate early pregnancies safely. The use of misoprostol is certainly better than exposing women to hazardous surgical procedures carried out by unqualified practitioners.
The Health Ministry of Morocco declared on Wednesday, 3rd October, that they would, in no case, allow the ship to operate in their country because abortion is illegal in Morocco and also in Islam. A huge aggressive protest took place in front of the marina of Smir where protesters staged a demonstration, carrying pictures of bloody embryos and shouting ‘terrorist’ and ‘assassin’, against the arrival of the boat.
Anti-abortion groups throughout the world have sparked numerous protests against Women on Waves during its existence of 11 years. The ship travels with a specialized abortion doctor, a gynecologist and a specialized nurse and is able to offer approximately 20 legal medical abortions a day for women who are up to six and a half weeks pregnant. However, Rebecca says she hasn’t given up. The group is working on a substitute plan(which has not been disclosed) to make their mission in Morocco a success. They have already set up a hotline for Moroccon women seeking a counsel on harmless abortion procedures, thereby barring them from the physical and psychological torment involved.
The demonstrators at Smir are waving slogans which say- ‘Life is a gift that must be preserved’ and ‘Abortion is an attack on the right to life’; but what I feel is that illegitimating the act is absolutely not the correct approach towards completely thwarting it. It, in fact, encourages people to take to illegal means of getting the task done. Women on Waves is trying to guard the rights of besieged women who may otherwise lose their life owing to unsafe medical abortions.
It takes courage to stand up for a cause. It takes courage to believe in the right thing and it takes even more courage to fight for people in distress. Rebecca is on her path to doing just that. Where are we?
References: CNN, BBC, Wikipedia, Al Jazeera, Capital FM, Women on Waves, The Week, Euro News etc.