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Dutch group drops abortion plans

The vessel's mission is limited to international waters  

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN) -- A Dutch abortion rights group has called off plans to offer an abortion drug from a vessel they brought to Dublin.

The converted trawler, Aurora, operated by the Amsterdam-based foundation "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, but the group said on Thursday as the Dutch government had not yet licensed the floating clinic, it would take pregnant women out into international waters and perform abortions using the drug RU-486.

But Women on Waves dropped plans to use the drug on Friday.

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Cathleen O'Neill, a spokeswoman for Women on Waves, told the Associated Press: "The complications happened at the last moment and we deeply, deeply regret that this has happened."

O'Neill said about 80 pregnant Irish women had contacted the group about abortions, far more than they could take on.

"We just can't meet that demand. The second reason is that there are complications with the Dutch law that also mean we can't carry out abortions on the boat," she said.

Abortion: Whose choice?  

Abortions are banned under the Irish constitution, except in circumstances where the life of the mother is in danger.

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.

"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."

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

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.

Lizet Kraal, one of the Dutch organisers of the trip, told the UK 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, the Amsterdam-based foundation Women on Waves had planned to carry out abortions and provide workshops and film events on family planning 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, LIFE, said sending the boat smacked of "patronising neo-colonialism."

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, 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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