Debate, But Little Protest, As Abortion Boat Arrives In Ireland
July 7, 2008 - 8:09 PM
London (CNSNews.com) - A Dutch-registered boat equipped with an onboard abortion clinic has finally arrived in predominantly Catholic Ireland, but the organization behind the campaign said Friday it may not be able to offer abortions there after all.
Women on Waves spokesperson Cathleen O' Neill said the organization had been "overwhelmed by the number of Irish women seeking the service," while there had also been unexpected complications with the Dutch law under which it planned to operate.
The vessel tied up alongside a pier on the Liffey River late Thursday, with little sign of pro-life protest dockside overnight or early Friday. One campaigner boarded with a banner reading "The Irish people in this country have voted against abortion." But there was plenty of reaction elsewhere.
In response to the boat's arrival, Ireland's political opposition party, Fine Gael, said public funding should be provided to an independent agency that would support those with crisis pregnancies.
The party's health spokesman, Gay Mitchell, said he doubted many Irish women would take up the offer of onboard abortions, calling the initiative a "publicity stunt."
Pro-life groups in Ireland and Britain also see publicity as the group's main aim, and indeed, representatives of Women on Waves said it had already fulfilled one of its aims, to stimulate debate in Ireland about its abortion laws.
Abortions in the Irish Republic are illegal except for extreme cases of risk to the life of the mother. Up to 6,000 women travel to England each year for abortions.
A right to life provision was incorporated into Ireland's constitution following a referendum in the 1980s.
Noting that the constitution affords unborn children full legal protection, Mary Hughes of the UK pro-life group Life called the Women on Waves initiative "as patronizing as it is sinister."
She described the ship's crew as "neo-colonialists" and a "noxious invading force," and called on the Irish authorities to act against a group that sought to impose Holland's "pro-death culture" on a country with a "pro-life culture."
Shift of emphasis?
While in dock, the ship's crew plans to offer workshops, counseling, and the provision of contraceptives, including the controversial "morning-after pill."
But the main aim it spelled out more than a year ago was to sail beyond the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal or restricted, and carry out abortions on women from those countries in international waters.
Even before Friday's announcement there had been signs the group may have been backing away from this part of its "mission" while in Ireland.
Spokesperson Joke van Kampen said in an interview last week the crew had already set aside specific days during its Ireland visit for trips beyond the 12-mile limit, where abortions will be carried out under Dutch law.
But after the Dutch government announced that its medical staff did not have a license to perform abortions, Van Kampen told reporters: "We are not giving any information on whether we do abortions on board or not. What we are really here for is to get attention for the state that Irish women are in."
The group was also evidently alarmed by reports that women were canceling appointments with family planning clinics in Ireland - including Marie Stopes International, which facilitates trips to England for abortions - saying they hoped to obtain abortions on the boat instead.
The development clearly annoyed Marie Stopes, whose director, Deidre Jones, said the ship was "not the answer to the problem."
Women on Waves' Ireland branch then issued a statement asking women planning abortions not to cancel their appointments with agencies, and again hinting at a stepping back from its original primary emphasis.
"Women on Waves Ireland points out that surgical abortions will not be carried out on board the ship and that medical abortions can only be carried out during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and where medically appropriate to the individual woman," said the group's Ivana Bacik.
"Furthermore, weather conditions and other factors may lead to difficulties in traveling outside territorial waters on any given day," she added.
Medical abortions are those brought about by the RU486 abortion pill.
Earlier this week, the Catholic pro-life organization Human Life International (Ireland) said it would launch a boat of its own to monitor the Dutch vessel's activities and offer pro-life counseling and help.
HLI director Patrick McCrystal said the group had also mobilized prayer and fasting around the country.
Its message to Women on Waves was that its efforts were "an insult to the Irish people," its propaganda was "untruthful and unwelcome" and that abortion was devastating to women, "emotionally, spiritually and physically."
HLI was praying for the campaigners' "conversion to Jesus Christ," he added.
There has been some confusion about the name of the ship. Initially it was to have been called "Sea Change," then reports began calling it "Sea of Change," and last week a spokesperson said in an interview it would simply be called "Women on Waves." When the privately-chartered boat was finally launched from the Dutch port of Scheveningen, however, it bore its original name, "Aurora."
See Earlier Story:
Irish Pro-Lifers To Launch 'Lifeboat' To Counter Abortion Ship (June 14, 2001)