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'Abortion ship' arrives in Ireland

The vessel's mission is limited to international waters  

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN) -- A converted fishing vessel has docked in Dublin to provide family planning services and possibly abortions.

The 100-foot converted trawler, Aurora, operated by the Dutch group "Women on Waves," arrived in the staunchly Catholic country on Thursday, accompanied by a police launch.

The vessel is equipped to administer surgical and medical abortions, banned under the Irish constitution, except in circumstances where the life of the mother is in danger.

But because the floating clinic is yet to be licensed by the Dutch government, organisers of the operation say any abortions performed will have to be administered using the drug RU-486.

Critics of Ireland's ban on legally terminating pregnancy say the country effectively ends up exporting abortion.

Last year, at least 6,500 Irish women who wanted to end their pregnancies opted to take a ferry to neighbouring England, where abortion is legal.

CNN's Sheila MacVicar has more on this ship from Amsterdam and what it intends to do (June 15)

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Abortion: Whose choice?  

"We have a whole raft of laws that are designed to facilitate women leaving the country," said Tony O'Brien of the Irish Family Planning Association. "Now, that cannot be described as anything other than hypocritical."

The group said it planned to take women seeking abortion into international waters for the procedure.

Having completed a four-day voyage from Holland, the vessel is expected to dispense contraceptives and family planning advice in Dublin, before sailing on to Cork during its 10-day stay in Ireland.

The Amsterdam-based Women On Waves Foundation, which organised the trip, refused to comment on whether staff on board would be carrying out abortions -- illegal in the Republic apart from in exceptional circumstances.

"What we have decided is that we will give no information as to whether we are doing abortions or not," said spokeswoman Joke Van Kampen.

"One of the reasons for that is the privacy and safety of our clients."

Abortion law review ordered

The vessel, registered in the Dutch port of Scheveningen, carries an operating theatre within a converted container attached to its deck.

While the group has said it does not intend carrying out surgical abortions, it is understood it may administer the abortion pill to pregnant Irish women under Dutch law while 12 miles offshore in international waters.

Lizet Kraal, one of the Dutch organisers of the trip, told the U.K. Press Association she was "not anxious but excited" about their arrival and explained that security would be provided by women serving in the Irish army.

It had been reported that the crew may be issued with bullet-proof vests as protection against feared militant anti-abortion activity, which has so far failed to materialise.

While docked in Dublin, Women on Waves plans workshops and film events on family planning, abortions and strategies to campaign for legal abortions.

'Debate, not hysteria, is helpful'

John Smyth, spokesman for the Irish pro-life campaign, described the exercise as a "publicity stunt."

He told PA: "We feel that it is not going to help women in crisis pregnancies in any way.

"There is already a debate under way in Ireland on the issue, there has been for a number of years, and we see Women on Waves as a distraction from that -- any debate is helpful but raising hysteria is not."

He said his organisation had not planned direct protest, adding: "We have called for our supporters to not do anything that would add to the publicity.

"But we cannot guarantee that individuals won't come down and ignore our calls and engage in militant action."

Earlier in the week, Human Life International (Ireland) vowed to launch a rival boat.

One English-based group opposed to abortions said sending the boat smacked of "patronising neo-colonialism."

"How would the Dutch government react if an Irish group called 'Drug Addicts Under the Waves' sailed into Dutch ports to pick up Dutch drug addicts, took them 12 miles offshore and butchered them?" LIFE said in a statement.

Father Pat O'Donoghue, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic archdiocese, said the voyage seemed to be motivated by something "other than an attempt to help people." He thought Ireland would hold true to its traditional "veneration for life."

The vessel was invited by Women on Waves Ireland, the group's Irish-based sister organisation. The Port Authority granted permission for the ship to dock in Dublin.

The Irish health minister asked the attorney general about the legality of the docking, but was told there were no legal grounds for barring the ship from the port.

However, any abortions, the attorney general said, however, would have to be carried out in international waters.

• Women on Waves
• Human Life International (HLI)
• Ireland - Information on the Irish State

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