Dutch 'Abortion Ship' Barred from Morocco Port

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: We go next to Morocco. This week a yacht that had docked in the Port of Smir in northern Morocco was escorted out of the port by authorities. The vessel's private owners had rented it out to a Dutch abortion rights organization called Women on Waves. Abortion is illegal in Morocco, so the group wanted to use the yacht to run an abortion information campaign raising a banner with a hotline number women could call. It's run similar stealth operations in European countries from Poland to Portugal. A local women's rights groups had invited Women on Waves to do the same in Morocco. Rebecca Gomperts is the director of Women on Waves. She says she didn't expect the ship to be evicted.

Rebecca Gomperts: The yacht was brought in by the owners who are private yacht owners, and we rented it from the moment that the campaign started, which was two days ago. And we had planned to sail out and to sail in with the banners, but when we saw that the whole harbor was sort of sealed off, we understood that we could not actually come in.

Werman: So you came into the port as a private yacht, correct?

Gomperts: Yes, we came, but it is a private yacht,

Werman: Right,

Gomperts: it's a private yacht and

Werman: but it's also a private yacht with a clear mission that it sounds like the Moroccan government doesn't really want.

Gomperts: But we are not doing anything in Morocco which is breaking the law. We don't have to ask any special permission because when we are in Morocco we are not doing anything medical. We are just expressing our opinion on the fact that abortion needs to be legalized in Morocco. And we are paying attention for the suffering of women here in Morocco. Every day there's 600-800 women here in Morocco that need an abortion; that's 300,000 per year.

Werman: Where do you get those numbers from?

Gomperts: These are numbers from the Moroccan Health Ministry.

Werman: Okay.

Gomperts: And because women cannot access proper abortions, they have to risk their health and their lives. And as a result, 90 women die every year.

Werman: And apparently the banner that you unfurled has a hotline number on it and Moroccan women were calling that, and it sounds like a lot of people called for your services.

Gomperts: Yeah, but what my number gives actually is information for women that they can buy a medicine here in Monaco, which is called Arthrotec, which contains Misoprostol, and they can do a safe abortion themselves at home.

Werman: Right, this is a pharmaceutical that induces abortion after six weeks?

Gomperts: You can use it until 12 weeks safely at home. It's a World Health Organization essential medicine and it has been researched very, very extensively. It's very safe to do. Women can do it home. It's like inducing a miscarriage.

Werman: There's clearly a demand in Morocco for your services, but without disclosing in advance what you're planning to do, doesn't that kind of deception inviting controversy?

Gomperts: Well, it's like a horse of Troy. It's a strategy

Werman: Trojan Horse.

Gomperts: in that we, because the ship can only help a symbolic number of women. When it leaves there's still women that need abortions here, so what we wanted to do with the yacht was also launch the hotline. And this hotline is a permanent solution for women here in Morocco until the law is legalized.

Werman: Ms. Gomperts, where is this ship now and what's going to happen next?

Gomperts: Okay, so the ship is now in Ceuta, which is a Spanish enclave north of Morocco. It's actually only three kilometers from here. It's really close. But I think for us the main aim of the action was to make sure that women have access to information, so in that sense for us the campaign was very successful and we have been contemplating whether the ship should come back, but we don't think it will add anything to the situation.

Werman: Rebecca Gomperts, director of Women on Waves, speaking with us from Smir, Morocco. Thank you very much.

Gomperts: Thank you.