The thing about being a pro-choice activist is that perhaps unsurprisingly, people want to talk to me about abortion. A lot. People will tell me their own abortion stories or ones they’ve heard. I’ve had people who are just barely friends of friends tell me stories of how they’ve travelled on their own with barely enough money to have an abortion in an English clinic.
Sometimes I will be the only person that they will ever tell in their whole lives that they had an abortion.
They place their trust in me because they think I am the only person they can tell without being judged for their decision, and even then they’re never quite sure, but maybe it just felt good to tell someone. I feel sad that they couldn’t tell their Mam or their sister or husband, and sad they had to go through that. And I never tell anyone.
Sometimes though, someone will come to me in crisis and ask for advice on how to arrange their abortion because they don’t know how to navigate such things. How would they? It’s not something that people have an emergency plan for. An escape route as such. They don’t teach you that in school. There’s no organisation out there that you can ring and say, “Hey. I’m in Ireland. I’m in a crisis pregnancy situation, please make the requisite arrangements for me, you can start with getting me the days off work and booking my flights.”
“Crisis” never seems an adequate word to describe these situations that women find themselves in. Sometimes it’s utter terror and sheer undiluted panic.
There’s always a lot of talk about abortion as an abstract concept unconnected to real women but merely represented by letters of the alphabet, X, C, D, A, B, C. But fifteen women leave Ireland every day to have abortions in England. These women are your mothers, your aunts, your sisters, your daughters, your friends, your girlfriends and your wives. They have names, and feelings and the awful experience of having had to work out the logistics of travelling overseas to have an expensive medical procedure they should be able to get in their own local clinic for free.
If you are asked for advice, whether you’re an activist or their friend, you might have to ask them some questions. They are the questions that people don’t think of. They are the things that are irrelevant to those who make the decisions around the provision of women’s medical treatments in Ireland. They are the logistics of arranging abortions.
Do you have the internet? If you have, do you know how to delete your browser history so that your violent partner doesn’t know what you’re up to? Can you go to an internet café where nobody knows you? Bring tissues just in case. Do you know the number of the local women’s refuge?
Have you been to the doctor? How far along are you? Do you know the further along you are, the more expensive an abortion is? Can you get a loan from a Credit Union? Or will you go to a money lender? Do you have anything you can sell to raise the money? Can you lie to your parents or friends to borrow money? Can you max your credit card? Do you even have a credit card? Are there any bills that you can get away with not paying this month? Have you gone through all your old coats and looked down the back of the sofa? How long will it take for you to get €1,000 together? Can you get an extra €20 off the Community Welfare Officer? Can you not buy coal for the next few weeks? Are you on the dole? Can you use your savings? Can you defer your year at college and save the money for your Master’s Degree again? Is it Christmastime? Can you return any gifts for a refund or sell them for cash?
Women with money have options, women with nothing have babies.
Do you have travel documents? A passport is €80 and Ryanair will only let you travel with a passport. Can you get a Driver’s Licence? You’ve lost it? Aer Lingus will let you travel on a work ID. Your work ID doesn’t have a photo on it? You’ll need a passport then.
Are you an Asylum Seeker? Ok, then you need to get travel documents that will allow you to re-enter the state. Who is your solicitor? Is he or she pro choice? How much does he or she charge to help you with this?
How are you fixed for time? Can you only travel on a Sunday because that’s the only day you can “disappear” for where people won’t ask questions? Ok, but you know that it will be tough to get an appointment because there are less than a handful of clinics that will open on a Sunday? Most are closed Sundays. Many are closed on Saturdays. But you better have a fall-back plan because some of the clinics that open on certain days can’t do certain procedures. Do you have a fall back plan? Can you go home to Ireland and come back on Friday? Are you in the middle of your Leaving Cert.? Do you have to wait until after your exams to travel? Will that be more or less stressful?
How do you know that the clinic you’re looking at is actually a clinic and not a rogue crisis pregnancy agency?
Have you been able to figure out how to transfer money from Euros to Pounds without someone noticing on the bank statement?
Have you managed to get the day off work? Will you be calling in sick? Do you need two days off? Do you have any annual leave days left?
Do you live near the airport? Can you take a taxi to the airport? Don’t forget, the taxi driver will make idle chit-chat and ask you where you’re going once he hears ‘airport’. Don’t panic, he doesn’t know it’s for an abortion. Tell him you’re visiting an Aunt.
Or are you from down the country? Can you take a night bus and sleep in the airport to get the 7 am flight? Have you remembered your passport?
Did you manage to get someone to mind your kids? Or are you going on your own because your partner is watching them? Do you still have a partner? Is he supportive of your decision or, when you showed him the results of the pregnancy test did he walk out the door?
Or do you live in Shannon or Knock where there is only one flight out per day and due to the time of that flight, you have to stay overnight two days? Can you tell your partner you’re going to a hen weekend or something? Or a work conference? Or will you tell the truth?
How is your health in general? Have you told your GP? It’s not ectopic? Is your BMI ok? Because if it’s really high, the clinic could send you home from England without having an abortion because that procedure is only done in some places. Can you come back again next Friday? I know that means more flights, more days off work, and now you’re over 14 weeks which makes it more expensive but this is what we’re dealing with.
Do you definitely know how far along you are? Sometimes a woman can end up at a clinic and realise that she’s a little further along than she thought because she couldn’t get the money together and only a few clinics go past 18 weeks. As different doctors have different specialities, some doctors only provide treatment to 12 weeks.
Is this a pregnancy you wanted but you’ve been told that the foetus won’t survive to birth? Do you have a health condition that means you have to have an abortion? Is it something to do with blood clots because pregnancy increases the risk of blood clots so maybe you should get the ferry instead of the plane, and I know it’s a five hour train journey when you get there but there isn’t any other option I’m afraid.
Do you know how to get from the airport to the abortion clinic? Some clinics have a free taxi service but most don’t. Some provide pick up service but after the appointment you’re on your own. Have you checked the bus times?
I know you’ll be gasping for a cup of tea after sleeping in the airport but remember you can only have water just in case an anaesthetic is needed and you can’t eat. Or smoke, but what’s there to be nervous about, right? It’ll all be over soon.
Don’t worry, you’ll be ok, you shouldn’t have had to go through this but there are people working to change this awful, awful situation. I promise you.