Police have escorted from Moroccan waters a small yacht carrying women’s rights activists claiming to be able to perform abortions on board, after anti-abortion protesters jeered them on land.
The Dutch group Women On Waves sailed the boat around the harbour in the northern town of Smir with banners advertising an information hotline about abortion, which is illegal in most cases in the North African country.
A day earlier, the group said a ship which can provide “safe, legal, medical abortions” was on its way from the Netherlands.
Medical professionals have travelled before to European nations to raise awareness – the group’s founder said abortions had been performed on board ship in international waters off Poland.
The visit to Smir was the abortion rights group’s first event in a Muslim country.
Abortion in Morocco is illegal, except in rare cases where the mother’s life is threatened and it is also illegal to give out information about it.
Moroccan officials had said the boat would not be allowed in to the harbour and police sealed the port for what they called “military manoeuvres”, denying journalists access.
But this afternoon, activists from Women On Waves said they had already stationed a sailing boat in the harbour several days ago, fearing the port would be shut down. That boat took off around the harbour, about an hour after the group’s founder approached crowds of protesters on the ground, trying to hand out fliers on abortion in Arabic and French.
Police later boarded the Dutch-flagged yacht and escorted it out of the marina. No-one was charged.
“We launched a hotline that gives information to women here in Morocco, because the ship can never solve the problem here for everyone,” said Rebecca Gomperts, the organisation’s founder.
The hotline contains a recorded message explaining which easily available medication in Morocco can be used to perform an abortion.
Some 200 protesters in Smir targeted the activists outside the sealed gates of the marina. The protesters, some in conservative Muslim robes and headscarves, carried pictures of bloody embryos and shouted “Terrorist!” and “Assassin!” at Ms Gomperts.
“We are here because we cannot accept these values, the values of massacre,” said protester Abdessamad Zilali, 23. “It is not part of our tradition to kill the unborn.”
Police pushed back shouting protesters who tried to get closer to Ms Gomperts, and said she was escorted away for her own protection.
The Women On Waves boat was invited to Morocco by a local women’s rights organisation seeking the legalisation of abortion in the North African kingdom.
Founded in 1999, Women On Waves aims to spread information about safe medical abortions induced by medication and has previously angered authorities in conservative Catholic countries.
The group travelled to Ireland in 2001, Poland in 2003 and Spain, and was banned from entering Portugal’s waters in 2004.