Women's rights. Healthcare advocates estimate that 180 illegal abortions are carried out every day in Guatemala, where a boat staffed with doctors is anchored off shore to offer safe abortions.

In Guatemala, a women’s rights warship

The waters are troubled in Guatemala. Not because of Trump and his deportations — last week he sent General John Kelly, former head of the Southern Command, to the country. Not because of poverty, corruption, the murders of environmentalists and femicides. But because of the arrival of the “abortion ship” of the Dutch NGO Women on Waves.

The ship, organized by a group of feminists from different nationalities, typically goes to countries where abortion is banned and it stops in international waters. Then, together with local activists, some feminists call at the ports nearby to retrieve women who choose to have an abortion and ferry them to the ship. Once on board, they receive a free dose of the abortion pill, which is effective within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

This is the first time that the ship has visited Latin America, stopping first in Guatemala, where abortion is not permitted except to save the mother’s life. Consequently, a very high number of illegal abortions are performed at a very high risk to women in unsafe conditions. According to Women on Waves, 65,000 abortions are practiced every year in Guatemala, or 180 per day.

Religious and conservative organizations started a fierce protest against the feminists. They were all determined to prevent activists from getting off the ship in the little port of San José, on the Guatemalan shore on the Pacific Ocean, and then get the women who wished to have an abortion on a small yacht, to bring them to international waters.

Women on Waves rose to the level of parliament, where the president of the republic, the former comedian Jimmy Morales, spoke against “the ship of death” and has alerted the naval command. The army issued a stern statement in which it declared it was determined to prevent the NGO from carrying out its work and denounced the ship’s personnel for not announcing the docking. Even the Bishops’ Conference of Guatemala got into the debate. Feminists held a press conference in the port, but they were attacked by a group of evangelicals.

The Guatemalan activists, who are committed to support the initiative of their international counterparts, reminded the right of the monstrosities committed during the 30 years of civil war, when pregnant women — mostly Mayan indigenous women — were gutted by the military. They also denounced the double standard of those who oppose abortion but support the death penalty.

The doctors of Women on Waves explained that they chose Guatemala because of the high number of Zika cases registered. The virus causes severe malformations of the fetus during pregnancy.

The NGO had planned to stay five days, which are being spent amid legal complaints and threats. Finally the Immigration Directorate intervened by ordering the expulsion of four U.S. activists from the Port of San José. They were accused of breaking the immigration law since they entered as tourists and not as members of “a healthcare organization.” Hence the deportation proceedings, to be executed within 72 hours. However, the NGO’s lawyers have appealed and the case will go to court.

Meanwhile, in Guatemala, the feminist groups are preparing the global women’s strike, scheduled around the world on March 8. Back in April 14, 2008, the Guatemalan Congress approved the law against femicide, but the extremely high number of women (especially in popular sectors) killed each year with impunity, reveals the hypocrisy of the “defenders of life.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!