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Moroccan harbour blocks ‘abortion ship’


The Women on Waves ship was due in Morocco this afternoon. Photo: Women on Waves.

The harbour where a boat offering abortions and advice to Moroccan women was due to dock today has been closed. The ship, organized by Women on Waves, was scheduled to arrive at 1pm, at the invitation of Moroccan campaign group Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms (MALI).

Women on Waves, an organization based in the Netherlands, has released a statement saying that warships are now blocking the entrance to Marina Smir, but says: ‘Despite this obstacle and the presence of intensive Moroccan police security, Women on Waves will not [allow] this to prohibit the dissemination about the availability of safe medical abortion for Moroccan women.’ They say they are working on an alternative strategy for the ship to reach the country’s coastline.

There has also been a hotline launched to offer Moroccans information on safe abortions. Women on Waves say the provision of scientific information is protected under Article 25 of the Moroccan Constitution, as part of the right to freedom of expression.

The ship was planning to provide terminations for women up to six and a half weeks pregnant. Abortion is illegal in Morocco, but Women on the Waves says its procedures will be done under Dutch law, in international waters.

The Moroccan Health Ministry had earlier issued a statement, saying: ‘The Ministry of Health...was never informed of this event and has not authorized any party or doctor, not residing in Morocco, to carry out this medical procedure.’

Women on Waves says that approximately 600 to 800 women have an abortion every day in Morocco, and adds: ‘While wealthy women can afford safe abortion access, women of low socio-economic status must often resort to unsafe methods that can result in death. Therefore, access to safe abortion is fundamentally an issue of social justice.’

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe abortions account for close to 13 per cent of all maternal deaths globally.

MALI is no stranger to confronting the conservative Moroccan law. In 2009 a small group of members planned to eat in public at a train station, during daylight hours, in the month of Ramadan – traditionally a time when Muslims would be fasting. The action was planned despite a law preventing eating in public in daylight, with the potential punishment of a fine or up to six months in prison. Six people were arrested and another said he received 100 death threats in one week.

Women on Waves is itself a provocative organization. It was founded 10 years ago with the goal of preventing unsafe abortions by providing sexual health services, including abortions, on a Dutch ship. They have sailed to countries including Ireland and Poland, but this is the first time they have attempted to land in a Muslim country. A similar attempt was stopped by the authorities in Portugal in 2004.

The group also focuses on making women aware of being able to carry out an abortion themselves with pills. They say that an option for Moroccan women seeking a safe abortion could be misoprostol, a medicine that is available under the brand name Arotec and can be used at home until the 12th week of pregnancy.

A petition for the legalization of abortion in Morocco is also being promoted and currently has over 900 signatures.

To find out more about the campaign, go to the Women on Waves website.

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