Irish women - still having to get the abortion boat

A medical ship with a fully functioning operating theatre on board is coming to Ireland in June. Financed by Women On Waves, a charitable foundation based in the Netherlands, the ship will travel to countries like Brazil and the Philippines where abortion is illegal and women are dying as a result of unsanitary and unprofessional backstreet abortions. They will draw attention to the reality that 70,000 women died throughout the world last year as a result of illegal abortions.

They are coming to Ireland at the request of pro-choice organisations in Cork and Dublin. They want to draw attention to the hypocrisy of Irish law, which bans all abortions (unless the woman is in direct risk of death as a result of continuing her pregnancy). It is hypocrisy, because Ireland 'exports' its problems rather than dealing with them at home.

In 1998 (the last year for which official figures are available) 5,892 women with Irish addresses had abortions in British clinics - that's 16 per day. At a time of great trauma for many of these women, they have to find information about foreign clinics, raise the money for both travel and the operation, and arrange time off work and someone to mind any children they already have.

This is why 31% of abortions performed on Irish women happen after 12 weeks of pregnancy, compared with just 10% for English women. The way to reduce the number of late abortions is to face reality and provide a safe, legal and free service here.

While the ship can provide abortion services, it is not expected that surgical abortions will be carried out while it is here because of the availability of land based services in Britain. It will, however, provide contraceptives and educational workshops when it visits Cork and Dublin

It is a daring, controversial and unique venture that will force the abortion debate back into the headlines. It is up to progressive people to see that pro-choice arguments are put forward, that the debate is not dominated by the usual ol' guff about "exceptional cases" or definitions of "indirect results" of medical treatments. It is time to talk about choice, about a woman's right to choose.

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This edition is No64 published in May 2001