Seagoing clinic attempts to aid Moroccan women

By Tyler Davis

The Dutch human rights group Women on Waves was stopped from docking its ship in Morocco Oct. 4 because it intended to provide abortions to Moroccan women by taking them to international waters to circumvent the country’s strict abortion laws.

The group has received worldwide attention for helping women safely circumvent anti-abortion laws instead of resorting to dangerous alternatives.

There are approximately 600–800 illegal abortions in Morocco every day, according to Chafik Chraibi, president of the Moroccan Association for the Fight Against Clandestine Abortion, which is fighting for the legalization of abortion in Morocco but opposes Women on Waves’ arrival. Approximately 200 of the illegal abortions in Morocco are not performed by medical professionals.

Morocco has made great progress in women’s reproductive rights during the last 10 years, but this is far too slow for women seeking abortions. Abortion is illegal in the country unless performed to protect the physical and mental health of the woman. Notably missing from this law is an exception in the case of rape.  In 2009, the last year data is available, there were 1,507 rapes in Morocco, according to United Nations statistics.

The UN Human Rights Council has considered listing abortion as a global right. At the very least, countries should allow abortion when the pregnancy is a danger to the mother’s health or the result of rape.

Politics aside, the medical crew of this boat is doing great work for the women of that country. Anti-abortion laws are less likely to deter abortion than to encourage unsafe procedures. In fact, abortion rates in many countries are similar regardless of a nation’s laws, according to the World Health Organization. The Women on Waves boat has a full medical staff and is licensed by the Dutch government to perform abortions. It is refreshing to see an organization directly confronting a problem as serious as reproductive rights and taking action to help people in dangerous situations.

Women on Waves was also stopped in 2004 when it attempted to visit Portugal to perform abortions before the procedure was legal in that country, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this violated the organization’s right to freedom of expression.

Officials from Morocco’s Ministry of Health are claiming that the boat’s intended actions are illegal, and that they have not authorized the group to perform any medical procedures. However, a nation’s laws only apply 12 miles out to sea, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In international waters, the only enforceable law is that of the country that registered the boat, meaning the abortions performed by Women on Waves are completely legal under Dutch legislation.

Even if you oppose abortion, it’s hard to justify anti-abortion laws like Morocco’s, which put women in a difficult position, causing many to seek unsafe, non-medical procedures.

This would have been the first time the boat landed in a predominantly Muslim country. Instead, it sailed around the blocked harbor displaying a phone number Moroccan women could call to assist them in getting Artotec, an abortion pill available in Morocco without a prescription. Women on Waves is promising to press charges against the Moroccan government for violating the group’s right to free expression, a right that is clearly stated in Morocco’s constitution.

Morocco’s objections to abortion are based on Muslim beliefs. If women are going to seek abortions, it makes more sense to have them performed by a licensed doctor in a safe environment. Cultural values should be respected, but when they begin to harm people, something should be done.