|Moroccan women protest the docking in the port of Smir of the "abortion ship" run by the radical Dutch Women on Waves organization. Abortion is illegal in Morocco.|
A ship filled with activists who say they want to help women receive abortions was escorted out of the Moroccan port of Smir after the government initially blocked the harbor and prevented residents from accessing the vessel.
Abortion is illegal in Morocco, and the country's Health Ministry said in a statement that it had not authorized the vessel's visit or any procedures by nonresident doctors.
The "abortion ship" is run by Women on Waves, which was founded in 1999 by a Dutch doctor to provide abortions to women in countries where the practice is illegal. The Women on Waves ship takes women into international waters to perform the abortions, which are legal under Dutch law, until 6.5 weeks into the pregnancy.
But authorities in the predominantly Muslim country seemed to effectively block the activists efforts on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Radio Netherlands reported that on Thursday afternoon, the Dutch Health Ministry announced that the staff on board the boat could not carry out abortions in international waters because they had failed to apply for a permit. The ministry added that it had repeatedly informed Women on Waves that they did not have authorization to terminate pregnancies in international waters off the coast of Morocco.
According to the ministry, Women on Waves must apply for a permit each time it sails. The Dutch Health Care Inspectorate, said the ministry, needs to check the quality and safety of the care and follow-up care. It reiterated that Dutch law applies in international waters because the boat is flying a Dutch flag.
The boat sailed to Morocco at the invitation of the Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms (MALI), which is campaigning for the legalisation of abortion in the North African country. This is the first attempt Women on Waves has made to visit an Islamic country. In the past 11 years, its ship sailed to Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain.