Women on Waves sets sail to Portugal

On the invitation of the Portuguese organizations Não te Prives, Youth Action for Peace, UMAR and Club Safe, the ship of Women on Waves will set sail to Portugal on August 23rd where it will stay for two weeks.

The aim of the Women on Waves voyage to Portugal is to call attention to the right for objective sexual education, and to availability of contraceptive and legal and safe abortion services. Many Portuguese women suffer because of the restrictive abortion laws. An estimated 20.000 to 40.0000 illegal and unsafe abortions take place in Portugal each year. As a result of the restrictive Portuguese abortion laws a Portuguese woman has a 150 times higher risk of dying from an abortion then a woman in the Netherlands. Each year approximately 5000 women are hospitalized with complications and about 2 or 3 women die from unsafe illegal abortion practices in Portugal.

Women on Waves can only provide the abortion pill to women with early unwanted pregnancies (up to 6 1/2 weeks of pregnancy) outside the Portuguese territorial waters. Counselling, treatment and aftercare will be done according to high Dutch medical standards. The Dutch health inspection has approved the mobile clinic which is aboard the ship. Last month, after years of legal procedures, Clemence Ross, the Dutch Christian Democratic state secretary of Health, finally granted Women on Waves a first trimester abortion clinic license but with the restriction that abortions can only take place in Amsterdam. Unfortunately the request for a temporarily suspension of the restriction was turned down by the court. The final court case will be in three months time.

Portugal is the only country within the EU that actively prosecutes women and doctors for illegal abortion. This, despite the adoption of the Lancker report (A5-00223/2002) the European Parliament created in June 2002, which advises to make abortion legal, safe and accessible and calls upon all member states not to prosecute women who have had an illegal abortion.

The former prime minister of Portugal, Jose Manuel Barroso, the current president of the European Commission has already appointed Rocco Buttiglione as commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. He is a former Vatican diplomat and advisor to Pope John Paul II, known for his positions close to the Vatican, and against abortion rights.

This visit of the Women on Waves ship to Portugal coincides with the Dutch presidency for the European Union. Women on Waves hopes the council of Ministers and the commission will finally discuss this violation of women’s human rights by the restrictive abortion laws in the few European countries Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Malta.