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Floating abortion clinic sets sail

Sea of Change
The abortion clinic is in a shipping container on deck  

SCHEVENINGEN, The Netherlands -- A group of Dutch pro-abortionists has set sail for Ireland, where it plans to offer a way for women to end pregnancies beyond the reach of their country's laws.

Starting with Ireland, the privately funded Women on Waves organisation said it planned to offer its services off the coast of countries where terminations are outlawed or restricted. It will also offer contraceptives and counselling.

It chose Dublin as the first destination because Ireland "is in the European Union and it's on our doorstep," Joke von Kampen, spokeswoman for the Netherlands-based group, told the Associated Press. "It has the most repressive policies."

The 35-metre converted fishing boat Sea of Change was expected to reach Dublin on Thursday or Friday, Reuters news agency said.

A gynecologist and nurse on board will offer abortions inside a green shipping container fastened to the deck.

The room is fitted out as a treatment room with a chair designed for abortion operations and a machine to determine the length of pregnancy.

The trip to Ireland, where the ship will spend up to a month, is a pilot project of a mission that could eventually include parts of Africa.

"We hope to provide a catalyst for legalisation ... We simply want to give women a choice. Public awareness is the first step," Women on Waves founder Rebecca Gomperts told Reuters news agency.

Protests over voyage

The trip was described as "a mad feminist stunt" by spokeswoman for the Dublin-based Society for Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) Marie Vernon.

"I can't see Irish women gathering at the dockside to be collected and taken out to the abortion ship. Abortion is a very private thing. It would be illegal apart from anything else as it would constitute a referral for abortion," she said.

Gomperts said the foundation had been invited by local groups and had considerable support from Irish women, more than 6,000 of whom travel to Britain every year for abortions.

Gomperts, a doctor who formed the group in 1999, previously provided medical assistance aboard the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior.

She said her team would offer the RU 486 abortion pill to Irish women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies. The pill blocks progesterone, the hormone that maintains pregnancy, triggering a miscarriage.

As the boat departed, Dutch public prosecutors said they were considering whether to launch a criminal investigation against Women on Waves who do not have a licence to perform operations.

The group said they had taken legal advice and had consulted the government, which had appeared uncertain as to whether a licence was required.

A small group of pro-life demonstrators with placards reading "Abolish abortion" and "SOS" held a brief vigil at Hook of Holland, the entrance to the port of Rotterdam on Monday morning.

Bert Dorenbos, president of Cry for Life, and other protesters cast bottles into the sea with messages decrying the Sea of Change mission.

There were no protesters in Scheveningen as the Sea of Change sailed. Women on Waves had kept its location secret until a few hours before it sailed.

• Women on Waves
• The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
• Cry for Life

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