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The BBC's health correspondent Karen Allen
"Protestors made it clear that the ship is not welcomed"
 real 56k

Friday, 15 June, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
No abortions on 'abortion ship'
Pro-choice activists welcome the 'abortion ship'
A publicity stunt for the Irish pro-choice campaign?
By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy in Dublin

The Dutch "abortion ship" is safely berthed in Dublin's dock, but any plans to circumvent Ireland's strict abortion laws have been sunk.

Operators of the Aurora, a converted fishing trawler, have been forced to backtrack on their controversial plans to carry out abortions on board.

Paper headlines about the Dutch abortion ship
The events met with a hostile reaction from journalists
Now critics claim the high-profile voyage has turned into nothing more than a cynical publicity stunt for the pro-choice campaign in Ireland.

When the 450-tonne vessel set sail for the Irish capital at the start of the week, chartered by the feminist action group Women on Waves, the idea had been to cock a snook at Ireland's abortion law, which allows operations only in exceptional circumstances.

No licence

The crew planned to pick up patients before sailing 12 miles (19 kilometres) out into international waters to carry out terminations.

But the plot unravelled when it emerged the boat had not been granted the necessary medical licence from the Dutch authorities.

Despite this fatal oversight, volunteers on board refused to turn back and hinted they might still go ahead with medical, as opposed to surgical, terminations by administering supplies of the RU486 abortion pill.

Abortion clinic
The clinic has been set up in a shipping container
But soon after dropping anchor in Dublin, Cathleen O'Neill, of Women on Waves Ireland, admitted they would not be carrying out any terminations.

The organisation says it has had 80 applications from women interested in having abortions and that it has promised to support them, but not to terminate their pregnancies.

Plans to sail on to Ireland's second city, Cork, also appear to be in doubt. The campaign's spokesman, Brendan Young, said they would probably head back to Holland after spending a week in Dublin.

Family planning

In the meantime, they will remain in the Irish capital to dispense contraceptives, offer family planning advice and conduct "community outreach" work in the city.

The events met with a hostile reaction from the scrum of journalists who flew into Ireland from around the world to cover the story. Many felt they had been duped into a PR stunt.

But Dr Rebecca Gomperts, who headed up the mission, denied these accusations.

Pro-life activists try to distract attention from a news conference arranged by the Aurora abortion ship
Operation Babe Watch
"Do you really think we would have gone to so much effort just for publicity?" she asked rhetorically.

Had there ever been a genuine intention to carry out the operations? And if so, would any woman planning a termination be prepared to board the ship with the world's press looking on?

Yes, replied Brendan Young, they had been serious, and he had "several ruses" up his sleeve to get patients onto the Aurora.

Pro-life

The pro-life lobby will be heartened by the latest events. All along they have branded the trip a tasteless stunt and refused to give it more publicity by turning out to protest.

"We're already aware of the position of the pro-choice campaign," says John Smyth, of the Pro-life Campaign, an umbrella group that represents several anti-abortion groups in Ireland.

"With all the fuss they've courted, you couldn't exactly say they are looking after the welfare of the vulnerable women they are trying to reach."

Yet one group, Human Life International (Ireland), could not hold back from protesting. HLII activists launched a rival vessel to distract attention from the Aurora during a news conference on Friday morning.

The boat, accompanied by a waterborne police escort, carried a blown-up picture of a baby and a sign reading "Operation Babe Watch".

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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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