Pro Choice ship arrives in Dublin

For the last few months Irish pro-choice activists including members of the WSM have been preparing for the arrival of the Women of the Waves ship in Ireland. This has provided the strongest focus since the X case to resume the struggle for the right of women to control their own bodies, including the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

Over 6,000 Irish women a year are forced to travel to Britain to obtain an abortion, a medical procedure that should be available here in Ireland. Between January 1980 and December 1999, at least 85,559 Irish women had abortions in Britain. [1]

[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement member, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.

The Wow ship

The women on Waves ship, the Aurora at the Quay


Last night at an activists meeting we heard that the ship had arrived ahead of schedule and quickly headed down the quays to greet the Dutch crew on board. This mostly women crew had spent four days at sea, travelling between the Netherlands and Ireland.

Despite the various threats of anti-abortion bigots in Ireland and elsewhere the ship arrived safely without any anti-choice picket either at sea or on the quay. So we were free to meet the crew for the first time.

In fact the first trouble was this morning when a single protester jumped from the Quay onto the container holding the ships clinic. He was quickly removed. Some 150 media workers were on the Quay who hurried to interview him. When asked if he was afraid while jumping on board he replied that he was worried the crew might shoot him with their laser guns!

The only other opposition visible from the anti-choice movement is a single luxury motor boat that is continuously going up and down the other side of the river. Without a hint of irony this is displaying the name 'babe watch' which perhaps tells us a little how this group view women. The assembled media are obviously disappointed that a more confrontational situation has not yet materialised. As usual they are more interested in spectacular images then in tackling the needs of real women.

Media on the Quay

The media on the quay

The arrival of the ship coincides with the anti-Choice bigots losing control of the medical council, a control they had been using to deny that women in Ireland needed abortions. It also coincides with an attempt in northern Ireland to challenge the laws that prevent the extension of the 1967 British abortion act there. All these reflect a growing demand for choice and an end to hypocrisy in Ireland.

Legal complications in the Netherlands mean that the original plan to provide non-surgical abortion to women on the ship using RU486 have had to be abandoned. However the ship has still served not only to generate a huge debate in Ireland both in the media and on the streets but is also a base to organise activists from. It will also dispense contraceptives and family planning advice in Dublin and later next week in Cork.

The ship has caused many to re-examine the assumption that most if not all women who wanted an abortion could get one by travelling to England. In the last days huge numbers of desperate women contacted WoW because they either cannot afford to travel to Britain or, commonly because they are in an abusive relationship, cannot go missing for any period of time. The lack of access to abortion, like many other issues, most effects the poorest sections of the working class.


The gangplank into the shipwith a police patrol boat in the back ground

Predictably many mainstream politicians and liberal commentators have spoken out against the ship. According to The Star Tanaiste Mary Harney branded the arrival of the ship "offensive" and nothing more than a "publicity stunt". Ms Harney said its presence in Ireland would be unhelpful to the abortion debate here. "Abortion is a very sensitive issue and I do not think this ship going to contribute anything to the debate", she said. "I think it will be offensive to many people and I think that it is unhelpful."

This is rich coming from the Tanaiste of the government that has quite literally sat on its hands and refused to implement the X - Case judgement, now almost a decade old. This judgement would at least give some women access to abortion if their health was under medical or psychological threat. Harney is obviously more concerned with her electoral support then with the desperate plight of Irish women trapped in pregnancies they do not wish to continue.

The reality is that almost every step forward in liberalising Irish law has been driven not from governments but by the 'stunts' of small groups of activists and the occasional mass mobilisations when a real tragedy emerges. The contraception train of the 1970's was at that time condemned by the respectable liberals and politicians. Now it has entered liberal folklore.

A welcome on the quays with the anti-choice boat in the background

In the late 1980's it was student unions who choose to defy injunctions that tied to prevent desperate women been given even the phone numbers of British clinics! It was a small group of activists that supported the student unions and distributed the numbers on the streets in defiance of the law.

At the time of the X-case the state attempted to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from travelling to Britain for an abortion [2]. It was not the respectable liberals, but a tiny group of Dublin activists, including many anarchists, who organised the public uproar into the 15,000 strong march that forced the state to back down. Many of the same activists are involved in Women on Waves Ireland.

Irish anarchists will continue to be at the forefront of this struggle. We are disappointed that, this time, women cannot be provided with abortions. But we know that direct action has been and remains our best weapon in fighting for a womens' right to choose. We ask you to join us in this struggle, show your support for the ship and come to the rally Saturday June 23rd, 2.30pm. Assemble at Temple Bar Square, bring banners, flags, and placards, and bring a friend.

Andrew Flood

The clinic

The clinic in a container on the boat




Women on Waves

History of the struggle for abortion rights

Welcoming the boat

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