Feminist Ire’s Stephanie Lord and Sinéad Redmond, along with Niamh McDonald and her son Tom, join Kathy Sheridan to discuss the origins of Cop On Comrades, how men can support the feminist struggle, and activism in the social media age.
Category Archives: Abortion
To access a life saving abortion in Ireland requires 3 medical professionals (two psychiatrists and one obstetrician) to agree that the woman is at risk of taking her own life. As the recent case of a young girl shows it only takes one psychiatrist however to get sectioned for wanting an abortion in Ireland.
The girl was legally classed as a child and her identity has understandably been withheld so we know nothing more about her other than that she had an unwanted pregnancy and that when she sought an abortion from her healthcare professionals she was of the understanding that she was being taken to Dublin for the procedure. However unbeknownst to her the consultant psychiatrist had given evidence at a hearing to detain her under the Mental Health Act.
“The consultant psychiatrist was of the opinion that while the child was at risk of self harm and suicide as a result of the pregnancy, this could be managed by treatment and that termination of the pregnancy was not the solution for all of the child’s problems at that stage.”
How frightening it must have been for her to find herself in a mental hospital after travelling to Dublin expecting an abortion. We are told it was “days” later that another hearing was held that resulted in her discharge from the mental hospital. During this time her court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) had employed another consultant psychiatrist to access her and on the basis of their evidence the girl was released from the institution. She spent unnecessary “days” in a mental institution for the “crime” of nothing more than wanting an abortion.
I’ve heard numerous reports of suicidal people trying to access mental health units in Irish hospitals who have been sent away. In future I’ll suggest to those of them who are capable of getting pregnant to say they’re pregnant and want an abortion, as that seems to be a sure way to get sectioned.
This case raises a number of questions. How is it that it only took one psychiatrist to have the girl sectioned? Why was the PLDP act not enacted for this pregnant, suicidal child? How can the public be assured that the personal beliefs of medical professionals won’t interfere with them being able to access the healthcare they need? Did Government Ministers know of the case at the time?
Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said:
“Looking at the report, it’s hard not to think that the psychiatrist in this case essentially used the Mental Health Act as a tool to force a child into continuing an unwanted pregnancy because of their own personal beliefs. It is clear we need some process which ensures medical professionals with such conscientious objections cannot block timely health care in critical cases.”
This is the latest case in a long line of women and girls who have been failed by the state. Ms X was another suicidal child prevented from accessing an abortion in 1992 and Ms Y a teenage rape victim likewise led to believe she would be given an abortion and instead detained against her will. Ireland has a disgraceful history stretching back to the Magdalene Laundries of locking up pregnant women.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is supposed to “protect” women who are at risk of taking their own lives, not used as a tool to lock women who want abortions up.
The Irish Government are allowing this human rights abuse to happen on their watch, leaving a trail of abused and sometimes dead women, girls and children behind them.
Rally to Repeal is on Saturday 17th in Dublin. If you can’t go please contact your local T.Ds and ask them to urgently implement the findings of the Citizens Assembly.
You can sign an UPLIFT petition here:https://action.uplift.ie/campaigns/187
*I’d like to acknowledge the work of the Child Law Project. We would know nothing of this case if it wasn’t for their work. Since 2012 they have been able to report to the public on child care proceedings in the courts, they aim to report on 10% of cases.
I’m sharing this for any other parents of younger children who might find it useful. My 4 year old is OBSESSED with pregnancy at the moment, has been for a good while. Discussions on how to talk to your children about abortion come up a lot in Parents for Choice. I haven’t done that in detail yet with her though I have mentioned once or twice that sometimes people don’t want to stay pregnant.
BUT what I am doing is being very careful in the language I use about pregnancy. I don’t tell her people have “a baby in their tummy”, we talk about people having baby seeds that are growing into babies. When they’ve finished growing into a baby they’re ready to be born. This book is great for a basic explanation of conception that suits all kinds of families (definitely not the case for the vast majority of pregnancy books which are obsessed with married straight white couples) but where it falls down for me is talking about a 5 week embryo as a baby, so I do some editorial reading with Ailbhe and talk about these as baby seeds until the 38 week one which is a baby. It works really well and makes sense to her, we’re growing a sunflower from a seed in our windowsill at the moment. She demanded her daddy read it to her the other day while I was at work and informed him they were all baby seeds up until the 38 week one!
I’m doing this because I don’t want to be trying to explain to a seven year old who’s asking me questions about abortion that actually a 7 week embryo or whatever it is isn’t actually a baby in someone’s tummy as I’ve been telling her all along and so that it won’t strike her as something as immediately shocking as I think it otherwise might. I’m posting in case it might help others in the same situation.
Note: most of this was written on an iPad Mini on an airplane, so please excuse lack of hyperlinks and fadas.
It is more than a decade ago, and Dublin Sinn Féin are holding a full members’ meeting to discuss party development. Gerry Adams has travelled from Belfast to address the meeting. After he speaks, the members are invited to share their views on what could be done to increase party membership in the capital. A young North Inner City activist puts up her hand, nervously, and somehow finds the courage to say that the party has got to get its head around the abortion issue, or at some point it will find itself alienating the very demographic it wants to attract: passionate young people seeking fundamental change in society.
Gerry Adams replies that he disagrees, and that he doesn’t think this is a problem Sinn Féin needs to concern itself with. After all, he says, we have the most progressive abortion policy of any party in Ireland. And the young activist doesn’t argue, because the fact is, he’s right – at this point in time, Sinn Féin’s “exceptional circumstances only” policy actually is as good as it gets in Irish politics. Labour’s, believe it or not, is even worse. Oh, sure, there are genuinely pro-choice parties amongst the far left, but the far left aren’t really a factor right now; only the Socialist Party have a seat in the Dáil and their lone TD, Joe Higgins, hasn’t even mentioned abortion as far as anyone can remember. (In the 2007 election, Higgins will lose his seat and Ireland will be left without a single pro-choice party in its parliament.) The Workers’ Party have no TDs anymore and anyway, with a North Inner City representative linked to Youth Defence, they have problems of their own on the issue. And the subject itself is still so taboo in Irish society, there isn’t even really much debate about it; realistically, no one hopes to see more than legislation for the X case any time soon. So while Sinn Féin may be rather transparently trying to play both sides, the truth is, their fence-sitting policy is probably costing them more votes from the “never, never, never” crowd.
It’s now 2017, and how things have changed! That young activist – me, if you hadn’t guessed – is now politically unaligned (and needless to say, not so young anymore). Labour are now officially pro-choice, as are the Workers Party (who still have no TDs, but are far more active in Dublin these days). The Socialist Party are now Solidarity, and hold two Dail seats; People Before Profit and the Independents for Change are also giving pro-choice voters a strong parliamentary voice. You can’t throw a rock in Dublin city centre without hitting someone in a Repeal jumper; and though no one thinks the Dail will accept the Citizens Assembly recommendation for no restrictions on abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, even the fact that 100 randomly selected Irish people could come up with that recommendation is a sign of how far Ireland has moved.
Sinn Fein, however, are still rooted to the same position they were over a decade ago, and in fact two or three decades ago: calling for abortion to remain generally illegal with exceptions. So anachronistic does this now sound that when their spokesperson Louise O’Reilly responded to the Citizens Assembly vote by reiterating party policy, her statement was met by disbelief and anger among pro-choice supporters all over social media – many of whom had misinterpreted Sinn Fein’s call for repeal as a call for meaningful change. (And no, any change won’t be meaningful if it still leaves more than 90% of abortions illegal, and forces those women entitled to a legal abortion to either prove it, or just keep going to England like they always have.)
Now in fairness the party can’t just change policies on a whim; the exceptional circumstances policy must remain until an Ard Fheis votes to overturn it. Critics and cynics are right that the party leadership can usually get such a vote when they want one but that formality is, nonetheless, constitutionally required. And party spokespersons are constitutionally bound to adhere to that policy whether or not they personally agree with it (and I’m inclined to suspect Louise O’Reilly doesn’t, though I’ve never met her). [ETA: Judging by her Twitter response to this article, it seems I was far too generous to her. Well, at least now we know.]
But it does mean the party has a serious decision to make. And it can’t just keep doing what it did all the years I was involved, and respond to every attempt to change party policy at an Ard Fheis by trotting out a female Ard Chomhairle member with impeccable feminist credentials to persuade delegates that party unity would be best preserved by retaining its middle-of-the-road position. Because frankly, it no longer is a middle-of-the-road position. The hardline, no-repeal, no-exceptions stance that formerly represented the conservative side of the debate has now been relegated to the outer fringes where it belongs (just like in the US where, you might recall, Republican candidates supporting Irish style abortion laws were condemned as extremists even by other anti-choice Republicans). It’s no longer a question of will there be a referendum but when, and the real issue that remains is how restrictive – or how liberal – the replacement regime will be. If Sinn Féin sticks to their current policy they will find themselves on the right of this debate along with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and you can bet that they will struggle to convince today’s young activists to join them.
Of course, there are many people in Ireland – and not just among the far left – who think that that’s exactly where Sinn Fein belong, exactly where they always intended to be. Fianna Fáil light, just waiting to go into coalition and shed all their remaining leftist pretences. I can’t speak for the leadership, but I can certainly say that is not where the activists who I called comrades wanted to see them. I have no doubt that those who remain in the party are saying the same things internally that I’m saying here – and hopefully this time, the leadership will listen. Because the excuse I was given all those years ago just doesn’t cut it anymore, and I don’t think there’s an excuse that will. Ireland has changed, abortion politics have changed and it’s simply no longer credible for a party to present itself as a radical or even merely progressive alternative to the establishment parties, while siding with the most conservative of those parties on an issue of such fundamental importance to young people today. My prediction at that meeting may have been a bit premature, but tiocfaidh an lá. Sinn Féin cannot sit on the fence anymore because there is no fence anymore. The fence is gone, and they will have to choose one side or the other.
Over to you, comrades.
(A Rough Guide to Ireland – Part 1)
So you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be. What next? First things first – commiserations on finding yourself in this situation. It’s shit and it might get a bit worse before it gets better, but there are people out there who are rooting for you and hopefully you find the information in here a little bit useful. This is basically a step by step guide to getting through this situation.
Are you definitely definitely definitely pregnant?
Take a test. You can buy them in every pharmacy and they cost between €10/€20. Sometimes they sell them really cheap in Dealz and sometimes other pound shops for around €1.50/€2. If you’re embarrassed about buying it or worried someone might see you, consider asking a trusted friend to go and buy it for you. If you’re worried about what the shop assistant might think, just try and look excited. The chances are the sales assistant is selling these every day and will not pay any heed to you anyway. If you’re not sure about the home test you took, the IFPA carry out testing for €20 but it’s free if you have a medical card. Cura and Sexual Health Centre in Cork offer free pregnancy testing. Having an early scan so you can figure out how far along you are might be useful if you aren’t sure. You can get a free scan at FemPlus in Dublin and there are places around the country offering scans at a variety of locations with an average cost of around €100. The Abortion Support Network can tell you where the best place to go for a scan is. A scan will also confirm that the pregnancy isn’t ectopic. If you can’t get to a scan or afford a scan the most important thing when determining how far along you are is that you need to be counting from the first day of your last menstrual period, not from when you had sex.
Marie Stopes Reproductive Choices will provide you with a consultation and a scan but where they will charge €110 (or €90 for a phone consultation). It’s important to note that Marie Stopes’ clinics in Britain absolutely will not perform a procedure if you do not have the correct payment for it.
Decide if counselling is for you
Perhaps you’ve made a decision not to continue your pregnancy, or maybe you feel you want to chat confidentially about that decision with someone else. Here are a list of clinics that are legit crisis pregnancy clinics. The IFPA section about their counselling service has some useful links and shows the locations where they provide services around Ireland. When you go to these counselling services in those links, the counsellor is legally obliged to tell you about your options including parenting and adoption. Remember, whether or not you continue your pregnancy is your choice, and you need to do what’s right for you.
You might not want to go to counselling, but bear in mind that it’s free and if you go to counselling with either Irish/ Northern Irish FPA, Well Woman, Femplus Clinics, One Family, Cork Sexual Health or here2help, and subsequently attend BPAS for a termination, you won’t have to pay the €80/€90 counselling fee that BPAS charge. A letter from the IFPA to say you attended counselling will waive the counselling fee charged at *any* English clinic.
There are lots of women who make their decision the second they find out they’re pregnant. There are lots who take some time to decide on their own. There are others who go to counselling. Do what works for you – but as soon as you make your decision to have an abortion, start the ball rolling on making the appointment.
So you’ve made a decision to have an abortion, what now?
How you proceed in accessing an abortion from here on, really depends on how much access to money you have. If you have money you can travel overseas to access termination services, and I’ll go into the logistics of this later. If you don’t have money to travel, there are still options.
The Abortion Support Network are an organisation that offer practical, non-judgemental information and advice, financial help and, when needed, accommodation in volunteer homes. They provide guidance on what is the cheapest way for you to have your abortion, and which clinics will be the best choice for you. Ring them before you make any appointment and travel plans. If it is a particularly busy time of year for UK clinics it may be cheaper and quicker for you to travel to the Netherlands or Brussels for your treatment (although you will definitely need a passport to travel there from Ireland). ASN has a network of volunteers in UK cities that will provide accommodation and meals for those who need or want to stay overnight – most women are able to travel in and out in one day.
The Abortion Pill
Abortion is illegal in almost all cases here so many women who don’t have the money to travel (or it simply is not an option for them because of their immigration status or relationship status or age or childcare arrangements) will illegally order the abortion pill from Women Help Women. The abortion pill is a safe medicine.
Some women in the 26 Counties have found that when they ordered this online that it was confiscated by Customs but to our knowledge, nobody has been prosecuted for attempting to receive pills online. In the 6 Counties however, there have been prosecutions for attempting to procure a miscarriage (there are criminal penalties for this in both jurisdictions). There are difficulties in ordering online, but it isn’t impossible. The medication is usually supplied in exchange for an €80 donation. Need Abortion Ireland help women access medications from Women Help Women.
Women on Web are another organisation that can sometimes deliver to Ireland. The organisation ROSA have twice partnered with Women on Web to drive a bus around Ireland to do consultations for pills and then the pills will be posted to you a few days later. This is worth noting if you’re using resources to travel to a place where the bus is going to be because they will take around 3 days to get them to you. It may be quicker to just order them online in many cases as Women Help Women take around 5 days delivery. Both Women Help Women and Women on Web are reputable providers of early medical abortion pill. However we understand that Women Help Women is faster to respond to client emails. There is another reputable provider of pills, called Safe2Choose, but they are not currently sending pills to the Republic of Ireland.
Both Women Help Women and Women on Web will ask you for a Northern Irish address in addition to your home address, or the address of the place you will be receiving the pills. If you do not have a friend in Northern Ireland, fill out the medical consultation and WHW or WOW will follow up with you.
Please do not attempt an abortion with any other remedy, herbal or otherwise, as you could inflict serious injury on yourself. While Women on Web and Women Help Women are trusted providers of the abortion pill, there is always a risk when buying medicine online when it comes from a source that isn’t trusted.
A safe place to have your abortion
Once you’ve got your pills, you’ll need a safe space to take them. Most people will do that at home but for some that won’t be an option so they might go to a trusted friend’s house. Need Abortion Ireland’s site provides useful advice and self-care tips for when you’re having your abortion. They also provide care packages and a text message support service 089 490 2517 available 6pm – 9pm, 7 days a week. You can email them at email@example.com The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) also provide a hotline for those living in Ireland with medical questions/concerns about medical abortion pills. BPAS can be reached at 1800 910 049 (ROI) and 0800 077 6049 (NI). Here are some tips on what to do if you think you’re in an emergency medical situation.
Increasingly, there appears to be a clampdown in the North on women taking the abortion pill, and a tendency towards prosecutions. Two prosecutions have been brought because someone touted on their housemate, and another two were reported by doctors. You are legally allowed to travel (if your immigration status is regularised) so telling your doctor you’re pregnant, or having them perform a pregnancy test should not be an issue. You do not have to tell them that you intend to have an abortion.
Figuring out how to pay for it, whether it’s the €80 donation for Women Help Women or €450 to a clinic and another €300 for flights, can be the most traumatic aspect of this experience for many women. If you are purchasing pills from Women Help Women or Women on Web and do not have the full requested donation, they may be willing to accept a smaller donation amount. If you’re later on in the pregnancy, or decide to travel to England, your procedure will cost more. The Abortion Support Network can help you with this but you may not wish to ask for that assistance. If you’re low on phone credit, you can request a call-back from the abortion clinics. Here is a list of clinics.
Many women take loans from their local Credit Union to fund their abortion. Generally speaking, they will let you borrow twice what you have in savings if a guarantor will sign for it. If you don’t have someone who can act as guarantor, you may need to get a student loan in a bank, or check if you can activate an overdraft facility on your account. Each credit union has different rules so it’s best to ask the branch you’re a member of. If you are in receipt of a social welfare payment you might be eligible to join and borrow from your local credit union through the Personal Microfinance Scheme. This was a government scheme introduced to try and stop people going to illegal money lenders. Try to avoid going to the illegal moneylenders at all costs. You could also go to the Community Welfare Officer to ask for an emergency payment. Keep in mind though that you will need to provide a reason why you need this payment, and if you say it is for a washing machine there is a chance you will need to either provide proof you purchased a washing machine or an inspector may call to check your purchase. You could take a chance and tell the CWO why you need the payment as they have a wide range of discretion but you do run the risk of going to a CWO who is antichoice and won’t give you the payment.
Other women have sold items on ebay to fund their terminations, or borrowed smaller amounts from various siblings or friends. You might have some coins in an old jar that you can put towards it. Maybe you have a fiver in an old coat. Or a €20 left in an old Post Office account. Withdraw it. Depending on your circumstances and ability to travel, you could be looking at paying anything between €450 and €2,500 to travel overseas to have a termination. Remember that the Abortion Support Network can give advice on the least expensive way to arrange your abortion and travel in addition to providing financial assistance to those who can’t afford to travel.
The medical abortion (abortion pill) costs less if you’re ordering it online, around €80, but you can only do this up to 10 weeks gestation. Surgical abortions will cost more but it will be cheaper if you do it without anaesthetic. Abortion is available in Britain on a broad range of grounds up until 24 weeks gestation. After 24 weeks, abortion is only permitted in Britain to save a woman’s life or prevent serious permanent harm to her physical and mental health; or where a child is likely to be born with a serious physical or mental disability. The later the gestation, the more expensive the procedure. Irish women usually have later abortions because it takes them longer to get the money together to travel.
If you’re reading this and not pregnant, start putting money away in a rainy day fund now. Open a credit union account if you can.
BPAS price list for those travelling from Ireland – April 2017
Travelling for your abortion
Skyscanner is useful for checking for the cheapest flights. Make sure you liaise with your clinic first so that they have an appointment time available to suit you and with ASN beforehand if you’re getting financial assistance. If you have any serious medical conditions or are later along or have a particularly high BMI, that clinic may not be able to perform the exact procedure and may need you to go to a different clinic, so make sure you’re giving them accurate information so that you can have your procedure the day you travel. Also, book your appointment before your flights because it will be easier for them to adjust your appointment time if necessary than it will be for you to change your flights if needed.
If you fly over, you will need a passport for Ryanair so budget for that. Aer Lingus will take a number of different photo id’s including a work id with your photo on, a student id or a social welfare id if you’re travelling to Britain. If you can’t get an appointment in the UK and are travelling with Aer Lingus or another airline to somewhere else in Europe, you will need a passport. You can apply for a passport here and it costs €80.
Once you get there, if you’re travelling to a BPAS clinic, they have an excellent series of PDFs that show you the transport links to clinics from the airport nearest you. NUPAS also have a free courtesy taxi service. If you’re travelling to a Marie Stopes clinic, they have a free taxi pick up service for their clients coming from Ireland. When you make your appointment, the clinic will give you directions on how to get there via public transport anyway.
Outside the clinic
When you get to the clinic, there may be protesters outside. Protesters tend to stay at larger clinics but they aren’t allowed on premises so if there’s a car park outside and you arrive by taxi, you won’t have to deal with that. This can be distressing for women but this link provides useful information. Just remember, you aren’t doing anything wrong. Don’t engage with them. Just keep walking. If you’re very concerned about it, call the clinic and explain this to them and someone will escort you in.
Inside the abortion clinic
When you get inside, don’t be alarmed by the fact there are other Irish women there. They are all there for the same reason as you. You will never see them again.
The length of time you’ll be at the clinic depends on the type of procedure you’re having but it will be anything from 3 hours to an overnight stay. For example, if you’re having a surgical abortion up to 14 weeks it takes around 15 minutes with an hour of recovery time. If you’re having the abortion pill and you’re under 9 weeks you can take both tablets in one go, but over 9 weeks and you’ll have to take one tablet and then come back in 1-3 days (this is why having an accurate knowledge of gestation is so important), and of course staying longer will increase the cost of your stay in Britain. 10-14 women travel to Britain every day from Ireland for abortions and most of these go over and back on the same day.
Consider when you’re paying if you want to do it by cash or debit card. Most clinics won’t have the name of the clinic show up on the card but you can check with them in advance in case you’re concerned. Depending on the exchange rate that day, it could be cheaper for you to pay in cash with sterling.
If you need accommodation, the clinic you attend can probably send a list of reasonably priced B&Bs if you ask them. If you can’t afford accommodation, contact Abortion Support Network. Abortion Support Network do not provide accommodation for women having Early Medical Abortions.
If you need to account for being away for a day or two, you can say you were just going on holiday or that you had a job interview. Try to keep things simple. Remember that there is no shame in your abortion, you have done nothing wrong – regardless of whether you choose to tell people or not. If you would usually bring your Aunty Pat a fridge magnet from your holiday, and you’ve told her you’ve gone on holiday, try and do the same this time.
Travelling for abortion after 24 weeks
If you need an abortion after 24 weeks because of a serious foetal condition, you may have to go to a specialist clinic for this. There are a few hospitals England that will provide the necessary treatment but you may have to wait a few weeks for an appointment. Depending on the stage of pregnancy and your medical requirements, the procedure may differ so it is best to speak directly to the hospital about the costs. In some late term abortions, the procedure is that the foetal heart is stopped and then the foetus is subsequently delivered. What some women have found in Ireland is that it costs around €1,500 for the first part and another €1,500 for the delivery so they opt to travel the first part done in Britain, and then return home to deliver the foetus in an Irish hospital where they have the support of their family. This also removes the cost of transporting foetal remains home to Ireland for burial. Some women simply prefer this option. Please do not be alarmed by these figures. Liverpool Women’s charges around £1634 for the whole procedure including the stay at hospital with your partner and it really depends on your particular needs.
If your pregnancy has been diagnosed with a fatal foetal anomaly, you are not alone. You can contact AnteNatal Results and Choices (ARC), a UK charity helping people understand their diagnosis and providing information. You can also contact Termination For Medical Reasons, a group in the Republic of Ireland made of women and couples who have made the trip to England to terminate pregnancies for medical reasons. They have a support group called Leanbh Mo Chroi – 086 3745474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are in care….
If you are in residential or foster care, you have the right to travel to access abortion services. Contact your social worker to make these arrangements for you. Be aware, that in many cases where young people in care have attempted to seek abortions overseas, they have had to go through psychiatric assessments with the HSE and there have been court hearings.
If you need a visa to travel…..
If you are an asylum seeker, there is provision for you to get travel documents to access abortion overseas but it is an arduous process. You solicitor can also seek funds from the HSE via court order to assist you with the cost of travelling. You can contact the IFPA for more information on getting the assistance to travel from the HSE. As outlined here, you will need two visas, one to leave Ireland and one to make sure you get back in. If English is not your first language, let them know when you are booking your appointment, in many cases, a translator can be provided.
If you are a migrant or a refugee the best places to go if you need a visa to travel are:
MRCI Migrants Rights Centre Ireland http://www.mrci.ie (01) 889 7570
IRC Irish Refugee Council www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie (01) 764 5854
The MRCI and IRC share a Dublin office.
Depending on what country you are from, it may be easier for you to get a visa for The Netherlands or Belgium.
A legal abortion in Ireland?
If there is a real and substantial risk to your life, including a risk of suicide, you may be entitled to an abortion in Ireland. This is not guaranteed. In the Ms. Y case, the young woman was suicidal but was ultimately coerced under threat of legal action to undergo a c-section at 24 weeks despite being deemed suicidal. We are aware of another case where a suicidal woman was granted an abortion though, but there are too few cases at the moment to predict how applications will be treated. If there is a risk to your life because you are suicidal as a result of your pregnancy and want to seek treatment in Ireland, speak to your GP. It may be best to make alternative plans to travel simultaneously in case your request for a termination is denied. If you are suicidal, there is a list of contacts that may be of assistance to you here.
After your abortion
When you return, you should attend for a post-abortion check up with your GP or with the IFPA or a Well Woman Clinic. Post-abortion check-ups are free as they are state funded. Post-abortion counselling is also free. A list of clinics where you can access non-judgmental counselling is here. From a doctor’s point of view, a medical abortion (an abortion using the pill) is indistinguishable from a miscarriage. You don’t have to tell your doctor about it, but there’s some useful information here and here that may help you make that decision. Be aware that if you tell your doctor you took the abortion pill illegally in Ireland, there is a chance they may report you to the authorities. Your doctor is not legally obliged to report you in the South, but doctors are legally obliged to report you in the north. It may be worthwhile travelling to access post-abortion care from a provider you know will not report you.
Take it easy. Consider your future contraceptive needs. Talk to a friend or a professional if you feel you need to but don’t feel you have to. It can be a big emotional deal even when you’re 100% confident you made the right decision. So most of all, be kind to yourself.
Budgeting for your abortion overseas – A Feminist Ire Cut Out & Keep Guide
|Phone credit for making calls to clinic / booking flights||€|
|Passport or ID Cost||€|
|Cost of travel documents or solicitor consultations to get them||€|
|Dating scan (optional)||€|
|Getting to ferry or airport (bus or taxi fare) or alternatively, airport parking plus petrol costs||€|
|Plane or ferry ticket cost||€|
|Plane or ferry cost for partner or friend accompanying||€|
|Phone credit for journey||€|
|Cost of printing documents (boarding pass, utility bill etc).||€|
|Fee for Abortion Treatment||€|
|Cost of Contraception||€|
|Travel from clinic to airport||€|
|Travel from airport to home||€|
The author of this guest post wishes to remain anonymous.
I attended a protest at the Department of Health yesterday to highlight people’s outrage at the handing over of the new National Maternity Hospital site to the religious order of the Sisters of Charity. I went as a member of Midwives for Choice, and I expected to help hold the banner and maybe video our spokesperson speaking. As it happened she could not, fearful as she was of her job by speaking out against St Vincent’s Hospital Group. So it ended up that I had a microphone and a megaphone pointed in my direction. My reaction? I froze. My voice is an inside my head voice, for the most part; I can’t even speak up in small group conversations mostly. So for anyone who wanted to know why there were midwives behind a banner, here are my thoughts.
I’m already scared that I’m a nun. All the older nurses and midwives in our hospitals were trained by nuns and they tell of the iron fist, regimented care and much else. Sometimes with respect and awe, sometimes fear, sometimes relief that they are all but gone.
The church’s legacy is strong within our healthcare system. Many if not most hospitals in the state have some church connection (religious members on boards, etc). Yet the history of church-run institutions in this country reads like a horror story, from the Magdalene Laundries to the institutional schools. Say it slowly with me: the institutions of the Catholic Church are inherently misogynistic. Women’s bodies will always suffer under them. They are beyond redemption.
Finally, this is the generation where the church’s abuses are being exposed. We are sickened as a nation to our very core about the Tuam babies, symphysiotomies, Magdalene Laundries, the abuse of our children by priests and nuns. Finally we should have hope that our society will stand up and say no more, that we can extricate our institutions from the grasp of the religious. It will be a slow but worthwhile process. When we can get the church out of our government, our laws, our schools, our healthcare systems, our bodies, maybe finally we can have a humane secular society.
That’s what most of us were thinking, surely, in the wake of the Tuam babies case? Please save us from the church? Then what the hell is this move? It’s as Irish a decision as getting your kid baptised to have a family get-together… and maybe to get into the local school. Cop on, Ireland. Stop being so short-sighted, so disingenuous. If we know something is wrong – and by God we know the Sisters of Charity have done wrong – then let’s stand up against it.
As a midwife, my role in supporting women to make informed decisions around their care in pregnancy and childbirth is already curtailed by the patriarchal, over-medicalised, over-litigious, under-staffed, no-continuity, factory-model, fire-fighting maternity system in place here. But at least women in Ireland are starting to take back power, to demand evidence-based care and proper time to birth. Even if this is something that our systems literally cannot provide at present, at least there is an awareness that what we have now is not good enough.
It feels like a change, this last 10 years: women are coming together; midwives are coming together; there is a politicisation, a will to change, even if it can’t quite find traction within our systems yet. There is a recognition that the 8th Amendment is a barrier to proper maternity care; where the fetus and the woman have equal rights within our constitution, any perceived risk to the well-being of a fetus overrides even real and substantial risks to a woman’s health and well-being. Our National Consent Policy directly points to the 8th Amendment as being a reason why pregnant people do not have a legal right to informed consent and refusal of treatment. Women leaving this system will attest to being railroaded and sidelined within their own care (see Aims Ireland testimonials).
I work within the system as it is now. While, individually, I strive to do my very best for each woman I care for, I know that the system is letting them down. I know that women are leaving our maternity system traumatised and broken down. Childbirth itself is not an inherently traumatic event. It is what we do to women in the name of “safety”: ass-covering and over-intervention without proper thought, consideration, conversation and shared decision-making with the people whose bodies we care for.
This brings me back to my first point: I already fear that I’m a nun. When the Tuam babies story broke, as well as the horror and the disgust that we all felt, I had a sneaking fear lurking… Those nuns were midwives. What if I’m a nun? What if I were a nun in Tuam, entering the institution to try to do my best for the forgotten and ostracised single mothers. What if I was kind as I caught their babies and helped them to their mother’s breast. What if I was gentle as I cared for infants while their mothers worked, coming back to feed them on schedule. What if my heart hurt as I dried the tears of a mother whose baby was adopted out to America. What if I felt sick with fear as I saw too many little babies dying. What if I knew that they weren’t being buried so that the money for them would keep coming in. What if I turned a blind eye because I was just a little nun cog-in-the-wheel. Sometimes I fear that I’m just a little midwife cog-in-the-wheel.
So I have to go and hold banners. I have to add my face to pictures and my feet to marches. I have to overcome my fear of putting my job in jeopardy by being seen to be overly-political, overly-public, overly-outspoken. I have to find my voice as a midwife and encourage others to find theirs… even if I’m not quite ready for the microphone and the megaphone. I have to nod to pro-choice badge-wearers and pro-choice colleagues. I have to have small conversations in work and outside of it. I have to join Facebook groups, scribble my thoughts, cuddle my loved ones, help my pregnant friends, and I have to breathe and tell myself I am not a nun. I am a midwife. I am with-woman not with-institution, however hard that is in my everyday work. I will stay within the institution because free maternity care is a public right and should be available to all, not just those who can afford health insurance and private midwifery care.
Some day I dream of the true mind and body safety that comes with continuity of midwifery care for all women, and the true informed relational decision-making that can only happen when our maternity institutions are built back up to humane levels, free of the stranglehold of patriarchal and religious control – both constitutionally and structurally. We have a chance in Ireland to reject our broken past and to go forward with conscious intent to do the right thing. So Repeal the 8th Amendment. And take back the National Maternity Hospital from the Sisters of Charity.
Peter Mathews was a former Fine Gael TD who was known for waving rosary beads around their parliamentary party meetings and for famously declaring in response to being asked a question regarding whether women should be forced to carry life-threatening pregnancies to term with the phrase “Sure we’re all going to end up dead anyway.”
He also once declared that the decision to allow a 14 year old rape victim an early stage abortion as in the X Case as being “repugnant” and on occasion said it would be better lock women up, if that was what it took, to stop them having an abortion.
When news of his death emerged yesterday, many people wryly commented that at least Peter was right about one thing, we would all end up dead anyway. In response of course, men on the internet, defenders of the hurt feelings of a dead man, came out in their droves to tell women who used his literal own words that they were “scum” for doing so. Indeed, the fact that I had pointed out the irony of being reminded that the feelings of a dead man are important than the actual lives of the women who Peter Mathews would have preferred dead or in jail for want of an abortion, I attracted tweets from men to tell me I was “thick” for doing so.
Others were more measured in their replies to women remarking on Mathews’ death saying that their emotional responses to his death would result in less support for the pro-choice argument despite it being highly unlikely that a person who doesn’t think a woman deserves basic bodily autonomy is going to change their mind based on whether they think a woman’s reply is polite enough.
The mantra “do not speak ill of the dead” was taken to heart by many yesterday. Ordinarily most people would probably agree, but Peter Mathews was not an ordinary person. He was a former public representative who was elected to the Dáil, who on multiple occasions had an audience to which he could pontificate on the value of my life as a woman. He spoke at length throughout the debates on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill debates during 2013 in which he advocated a position that, despite his protestations otherwise, would result in women dying for want of legal abortions. The only reason that Bill ever saw the light of day in a Dáil chamber was because a woman died. Peter Mathews had a hand in formulating the State’s legislative response to the right of bodily autonomy of every woman in Ireland. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that no woman of childbearing age has had a vote on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. My own mother was not old enough to vote when that referendum was passed.
Although politically marginalised by the end of his electoral career, he had a platform and influence and power over the lives of those who are actually marginalised; the women who he would round up and jail for having abortions; the women who he believed would be better off dead than having an abortion because “sure we all end up dead anyway.” There is no value in tone-policing the reactions of those women who Peter Mathews did not recognise the basic humanity of. The only value in it is for those who need very little excuse to have a pop at them anyway.
Of course, no one is arguing that pointing out Mathews’ comments that women should be forcibly prevented from having abortions should be the thing shouted at his grieving family, but we are not his grieving family. That said, unlike the majority of men rushing to berate me and others for even the mildest of comments on Mathews’ death, I actually did know him – at least in passing. He was a remarkably affable man who wouldn’t pass you without saying hello. I remembered on one occasion in 2014, I walked past him and said hello and he said “It’s a lovely day, isnt’ it?” It was a lovely day and it took every fibre of my being not to reply “Yeah but sure we’re all going to end up dead anyway.” In the end I said, “yes it’s lovely” and smiled and kept walking.
The thing was, no matter how gentlemanly and courteous he was, every time I passed him in real life and said hello, I was presented with a physical reminder that my life, in the eyes of this man who was an elected legislator, should not be saved if I had a medical condition that required an abortion. When I passed him and he remarked upon the rain, I thought of the women I know who he would let die rather than have abortions. When he smiled and asked “how are you?” to whoever he was passing, I would think of the women he would jail for having abortions. I would think of X, of A,B,C, of Ms. Y, Miss D, of Savita, or a woman who was clinically dead but kept on life support because people like Peter Mathews believed a foetus was equal to a born woman. Now that he has passed away, it is bizarre that there appears to be some unwritten code that says the only valid reaction is to narrate how polite he was and his work in relation to banking issues.
The criticisms of women who point out what Peter Mathews himself went to great lengths to talk about during his life is important for anti-choice activists and their supporters because it enables them to paint anyone who takes issue with what he believed in, and by extension their own beliefs, as being uncaring, heartless witches, or “thick” and “scum,” depending on the your preference. It serves to undermine the views of those who thought that Mathews was very wrong to dismiss the death of a pregnant woman with “sure we all end up dead anyway.”
There is something grotesque about a society that expects women to listen to male political figures pretend they know better for their bodies than they do themselves and pontificate on their potential death or jailing, and then further expects them to remain silent when one of those political figures passes. Their death does not magic away the impact of their actions when they were alive.
Those who are anti-choice and berating the rest of us might like for us not to speak ill of the dead, but seeing as they agreed with Mathews views and mostly people are just stating Mathews’ own words, it is odd that it is considered speaking ill at all. They can’t have it both ways, but even if it is speaking ill, it brings to mind Hired Knaves comments following another death, “A generation ago in Ireland it was customary not to speak ill of the dead but it was deemed fair enough to bury them in unmarked graves and tell their mothers that they were in limbo. Or hell, if the dead had killed themselves.”
The objective of criticising women for speaking out about Mathews’ comments is to silence them. It is not about politeness or his family or respect for the dead. Most of us do not have the luxury of standing up in the Dáil chamber to debate philosophical points regarding the bodily autonomy of others in a disconnected, dispassionate manner. We don’t have the platform to move seamlessly from discussing whether women should have abortions or not to how we knew Hugh O’Flaherty because we’d met him at rugby match or at tennis clubs, or make bizarre comments connecting abortion rates in France being somehow related to French women being given the vote. Most of the women affected by the Eighth Amendment aren’t shooting the breeze in the tennis club with the judges who decide what letters we’ll be known by in the High Court cases concerning our wombs.
Instead, we live with the prospect of being denied medical care if something goes wrong in our pregnancies. We live with the Eighth Amendment being used as an excuse to keep us alive even though we are clinically dead because women in Ireland are viewed as little more than vessels. We live with the prospect that a hospital will let us die if the risk to our life is not deemed “substantial” enough to warrant an abortion at that time. The ruaille buaille of the middle aged, middle class misogynists in Dáil and Seanad chambers is a sport to its participants as the outcome has little impact on their own lives. Meanwhile men scream at the people who are against forced pregnancies that they should have manners and then tweet at their employers and co-workers to flag up the audacity of being a woman with an opinion.
It is not the responsibility of marginalised people and those who are denied bodily autonomy to respect the opinions and words of those who made it so. We are not obliged to be kind to people who would lock us up for deciding we do not want to continue a pregnancy, whether they are living or dead. We are not obliged to be mindful of the feelings of a man who thought that the feelings of a woman who stated she would take her own life if she had to continue her pregnancy were irrelevant.
A society that respects a dead man, more than it does a living woman, is a society that is in itself, morally bankrupt, and those who defend the customs of such a society deserve no respect at all.
We all end up dead anyway, and personally I’d rather have that respect when I am alive.