The army of Guatemala on Thursday (23 February) reportedly detained a boat of the Dutch non-profit Women on Waves that was carrying abortion pills and stopped it from picking up women who wanted to get an abortion.

The boat was in the custody of the military with some of its crew still on board, after it landed on Wednesday at a private pier in the Port of San Jose about 120km south of the capital Guatemala City, a spokesperson for the group, Leticia Zenevich, said.

The army said that abortion was prohibited under the Guatemalan constitution. It said it was asked by President Jimmy Morales to act to defend "human life and the laws of our country".

The non-profit group provides free abortion services to women who are up to 10 weeks pregnant in countries where ending a pregnancy is banned.

Women are given an abortion pill and are kept under observation for a few hours after taking the pill.

The group's organisers defended the legality of the ship's operation as it took women into international waters to perform the procedure where local laws don't apply. They said they had a legal permit to sail on Guatemalan waters and that they had planned on staying for five days.

Quetzali Cerezo, director of Women in Equity in Guatemala, which helps the Dutch non-profit said: "Guatemala has been chosen because the laws are very restrictive on the subject of abortion."

In the Roman Catholic country of Guatemala, abortions are allowed only if the mother's life is at risk.

"We respect religious beliefs but this [abortion] is a fundamental right in a democracy," Zevich said.

A lawmaker Raul Romero said at a congress session on Wednesday, "The boat of death has arrived in Guatemala."

According to the group, at least 60,000 illegal abortions take place every year in the Latin American country and the woman who put their lives at risk come from poor backgrounds.