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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
Floating abortion clinic sets sail
Shipping container
The clinic has been set up in a shipping container
A ship carrying an on-board gynaecological clinic has left the Netherlands for Ireland, where it plans to offer abortions to Irish women.

The ship's departure was shrouded in secrecy to dodge demonstrators.

It left without the necessary authorisation from the Dutch authorities to carry out abortions.

The Dutch-registered ship has been paid for by a private Dutch voluntary organisation, Women on Waves.

The group says it wants to offer abortions to women who cannot travel to the UK, the most popular place for Irish women to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

The ship is due to arrive in Dublin on Thursday.

Family planning

While docked it will give out contraceptives and family planning advice.

Anyone wanting an abortion will be ferried outside Ireland's territorial waters.

The clinic's visit to Dublin will make waves
This should ensure that neither the organisers nor any women will be liable to prosecution.

Since 1992 Irish law has recognised the right of women to leave the country and have an abortion elsewhere.

Last year more than 6,000 women visited the UK to terminate pregnancies, according to the Irish Family Planning Association.

Women on Waves was established by Dr Rebecca Gomperts, previously a doctor on a Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior.

Dr Gomperts said the ship had been fitted with security equipment in case it encountered violent opposition. The clinic was built inside a shipping container so it could be easily moved.

Early abortions only

Ireland will be the ship's first stop. Visits to Brazil and the Philippines are also being considered.

Women on Waves says only pregnancies in their first three months will be terminated on the ship because the risks of any complications are negligible, as long as the operation is performed by an experienced doctor.

Pro-life critics in Ireland - where abortions remain illegal - have described the ship as "a gigantic publicity stunt".

One pro-life campaigner said Dr Gomperts would be "run out of port" not only by anti-abortion activists, but by politicians too.

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See also:

27 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Bishop calls for abortion referendum
16 May 01 | Americas
House backs Bush on abortion
05 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ireland
30 Jun 99 | World population
Viewpoints: Population control
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