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European Court of Human Rights Rules for Abortion Boat Against Portugal

Steven Ertelt,

Strasbourg, France ( — The European Court of Human Rights has ruled for the operators of the controversial abortion boat in a case against Portugal. The Women on Waves group took their converted tugboat to the formerly pro-life nation in September 2004 to try to do abortions but left when the nation forced it out.

The Borndiep’s crew tried to sail for the Portuguese shore, but the Catholic country’s top officials called on a naval vessel to block the ship and prevent it from docking at a harbor in the northern part of the country.

A Portuguese court upheld the decision but Women on Waves and two pro-abortion Portuguese associations, Clube Safo and Não te Prives, took the nation to the European Court of Human Rights.

The court ruled on Monday that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in 2004, that guarantees the freedom of expression, was violated when the Portuguese government prevented the abortion boat from docking.

The court stated that the "right to freedom of expression included the choice of the form in which ideas were conveyed, without unreasonable interference by the authorities, particularly in the case of symbolic protest activities."

It viewed Portugal’s actions to ban the ship as "disproportionate to the aims pursued."

Rebecca Gomperts, the abortion practitioner who founded Women on Waves, hailed in the decision in a press statement send to

"The purpose of the ship’s visit to Portugal was to call attention to the consequences of illegal abortion, to give information and sexual health education and to catalyze change of the restrictive abortion law," she said.

Although the abortion boat did not do any abortions on its Portugal trip, the ship’s trip may have been a success if only because the nation eventually approved a ballot proposal legalizing abortion.

In the ballot vote, some 58 percent of those voting said they favored making abortion legal but the vote didn’t count because half of the European nation’s voters needed to participate. Examined another way, just 26.2 percent of Portuguese voters backed legalizing abortion.

Still, the nation’s parliament approved a bill to legalize abortions up to 10 weeks into the pregnancy and President Anibal Cavaco Silva signed the bill into law in April 2007.

In the first six months following the adoption of the new law, abortion centers in the western European nation did 526 abortions.

According to the figures, Lisbon and Oporto, the nation’s two largest cities, reported the highest number of abortions. Together, abortions done there combined for 75 percent of the total number done nationwide.