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Last Updated: Monday, 13 October, 2003, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Abortion Ship
Anti-abortion protesters hold a small symbolic coffin with the name of the Langenort abortion-right ship
Protesters greet the Langenort's arrival in Poland
Correspondent was broadcast on Sunday, 26 October, 2003 at 1915 GMT on BBC Two.

As Dr Rebecca Gomperts sails the Langenort - a floating abortion clinic - into Poland, we follow the ensuing conflict and legal battles in a country where abortion is almost entirely banned.

The week before Dr Gomperts' arrival Poland had voted - by referendum - to become part of the European Union.

A predominantly Catholic country with some conservative factions and a powerful Church, parts of Polish society were still smarting from the success of the European referendum when they learned "the abortion ship" was on its way.

This was exactly what the League of Polish Families, a small party on the margins of Polish politics, had feared: it seemed no sooner had the door to a wider Europe been opened than abortion and euthanasia were on their way to Poland.

Legal battle

Our cameras follow the clash between the two sides: Dr Gomperts' security, led by Marjie Moore (a former New York City police officer) and the League of Polish Families, led by their local MPs and their followers.

Services provided on board the Langernort
In port:
Pregnancy tests
General info
Non-surgical abortions

They try to prevent the ship from entering the harbour and "killing Polish babies", mostly by throwing eggs and paint.

They also file a legal case with the local prosecutor with very serious legal implications for Dr Gomperts' ability to work.

The Polish authorities are determined to foil Dr Gomperts' plan to take pregnant women out to sea to give them abortions where Polish law does not apply.

But they, like her, are determined to follow the letter of the law. What unfolds is a struggle of wills as Dr Gomperts finds her way around the obstructions.

Eventually she succeeds in taking some pregnant women out to international waters and giving them the abortion pill called RU-486.

We follow some of the women as they take the decision to have an abortion on the boat and also meet one who resorts to an illegal abortion because she was not able to get on Dr Gomperts' ship.

Under current Polish law, a pregnancy can be terminated only if the mother's life is in danger, if she was raped, or the embryo has grave defects.

Doctors can face up to three years in prison if they are caught performing illegal abortions.

As well as raising questions about the intractable and well-rehearsed abortion debate, the film explores a clash of two cultures that are soon to be part of the same expanded Europe.

Reporter: Olenka Frenkiel
Producer/Director: Lara Agnew
Editor: Karen O'Connor

Have your say
23 Oct 03  |  Correspondent
On board Poland's abortion ship
07 Jul 03  |  Europe

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