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The Logistics of Arranging Abortions

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.

Abortion, X and the Eighth Amendment: why legislation isn’t enough.

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Abortion, X and the Eighth Amendment: why legislation isn’t enough.

It looks like Ireland is finally going to get legislation on abortion. Following the massive outcry over the fate of Savita Halappanavar, with the publication of the expert group report this week, there’ll be a debate in the Dail tonight on what- not if- to do about legislating for abortion to save pregnant people’s lives. With any luck, we’ll finally get that 20-years-overdue legislation on the X case, guidelines for doctors that spell out their responsibilities when faced with pregnant people whose lives are at risk, and Savita’s death, while unnecessary, will not have been utterly in vain.

But it won’t be enough. Why?

Continues at Consider the Tea Cosy

Debating Choice at TCD

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A strange and unusual thing happened last week. I popped along to check out TCD’s debate on whether “This House Believes Abortion Is A Woman’s Choice“. In all honesty, my expectations were pretty low going in- I was mainly showing up to see Feministe’s Jill Filipovic in action. From the debate, I expected the usual suspects and more of the same- accusations flying from all sides, a lack of common ground so extreme that it’s surprising that we’re all technically speaking the same language.

I was pleasantly surprised.

I am, by the way, a dyed-in-the-wool pro-choicer. I believe fervently that our bodies and our lives are our own. We should not be punished for our sexualities. We should not be forced to give up decades of our lives for the sake of someone else’s principle. While as a good skeptic I cannot deny the possibility of changing my mind, I consider that possibility remote.

Before I talk about the arguments I found useful and interesting on the part of the pro-life speakers, however, I’d like to take a moment to discuss those which were neither. These arguments were based on essentialist and demeaning ideas of gender. They’re getting a TW for transphobia and misogyny, so I’ll clearly mark when I’m done talking about them if you’d like to scroll past them.

The Bad Stuff- TW for transphobia, extreme sex-negativity, misogyny, and discussion of sexual assault.

“The ability to give birth to children is the essence of what makes a woman a woman”

According to this speaker, what makes a woman a woman is the ability to bear children. That is it. That is all. The sheer degree to which this dismisses those who cannot or do not have children- infertile women, trans women, many queer women, childless/childfree women- is difficult to exaggerate. Are these women not women? Are we really going to determine our entire identities by the presence or absence of a functioning uterus? How incredibly insulting is that to the women in the audience who are unable to have children? Who do not wish to have children? To adoptive parents, to non-birth mothers in same-sex couples, to women whose children were born through surrogates? And what about the many trans men out there who have given birth? Or the women who have given birth to the children they raise, who consider themselves to be women above and beyond their role as mothers? This statement is not only insulting to all of the above people. It is also, quite simply, wildly inaccurate. It’s just plain wrong.

“Abortion is not a woman’s choice but a thing that men make women do.. abortion leads to men treating women like objects and doing whatever they want with them”

I find it difficult to imagine how allowing women a choice makes other people do “whatever they want with them” in a way that taking her choice away does not.

Listen. I wish we lived in a world free of sexual coercion. I really do. If banning abortion led to a world where women were not objectified, where we were not sexually assaulted and abused? In that world, us pro-choicers would have a lot of explaining to do. However, we don’t live in that world. Women are objectified. Women are overwhelmingly more likely than men to be the victims of sexual coercion and abuse. These things happen whether or not abortion is legal. Legal abortion, however, gives women one small area of choice within this. It lets us have one small space of sovereignty over our own bodies.

“Abortion disenfranchises half of the people in the pregnancy”

In case you’re unsure, this person was talking about men, not fetuses. Women having abortions without their partners’ agreement hurts men’s feelings, you see. There are two people in every pregnancy, and those are the two people who brought the pregnancy about.

I’m sorry, but no. Yes, there are generally two people involved in bringing about a pregnancy- assuming that nobody is being sexually assaulted or raped at the time. Which happens. But even in a situation where a person gets pregnant through a consensual act, there are not two people in that pregnancy.

Men’s feelings have the potential to be hurt- deeply- if a woman aborts a fetus who could have become their child without their agreement. This is absolutely true. Emotional hurt is no small thing. However, women’s feelings as well as our bodies and our rights to bodily integrity all will be hurt, permanently altered and disenfranchised if we are forced to carry to term and to give birth without our consent.

“If a woman did not use contraception or early abortion, she should not have the right to later abortions”

In an ideal world, this might be an argument. In a world where there was no stigma around pregnancy, where everyone had access to clear and comprehensive education around bodies, sexuality, consent and contraception. In a world where people’s circumstances never changed dramatically and unexpectedly. In a world where nobody learned well into a pregnancy that their fetus’s life was inevitably going to be agonising and short. In a world where nobody developed medical conditions in pregnancy which threatened their own life, health, or well-being. In a world where nobody was in an abusive relationship, family or living situation which threatened their ability to exercise their own free choices.

In that world, maybe this would be reasonable. But we don’t live in that world.

Now for something a little more interesting

Fortunately for those of us at the debate, the tired old arguments above were not the only things the pro-life side of the debate had to say. One argument in particular impressed me. Here’s the gist:

Legal abortion creates a false sense of choice for women. Our choices are not only to give birth or not to do so- these choices do not and can not exist in a vacuum. Where we have a situation where women do not have access to all the supports they need to be mothers as well as engaging fully in other areas of their lives, where women are forced for economic reasons to not be mothers, their choices cannot be free. Legal abortion, by giving women an easy ‘out’ from motherhood, also gives employers, other institutions, and the state an easy ‘out’ from providing for the needs of women who are mothers as it allows them to deem women to have a made a free choice to not participate fully in these.

That there?

That is a frackin’ point. Women are often forced to choose between careers and motherhood. Women who are mothers are excluded from many areas of life by the assumption that they will take on the majority of caring responsibilities. Women are forced not to be mothers by their economic situations. Women’s lives are stunted by this lack of support for mothers- for parents! This is a major, major issue.

Of course, none of this means that using women as pawns to force the hand of wider institutions in providing for the needs of parents is a reason to remove legal abortion from women. But when we speak of reproductive choice, it is incredibly important to do so with an awareness of all of the factors- social and economic as well as legal- that get in the way of women’s choice. The reproductive rights movement, and those of us who are pro-choice, need to be sure that we’re fighting for women’s rights to choose freely, to be supported in the choices we make, and to not face marginalisation or crushing poverty for those choices. And- let’s face it- the lack of legal abortion as an option in Ireland hasn’t resulted in employers falling over themselves to offer better maternity and paternity benefits and leave.

From the pro-choice side

I’m not going to spend as much time on these arguments as the pro-life side- mainly because all I could add to the conversation would be thumbs up and enthusiastic nods of agreement. But here’s a taste of what people had to say:

“If you really love a woman, how could you want to subjugate her body for nine months? If we tried to control the bodies of men for nine months, we would see violence in the street”

“For every woman who wants to work when she’s pregnant, there’s another who simply doesn’t want a kid”

“Why should women have to pay for the violation of their own bodies, with their own bodies? Even if you have sex and end up pregnant, you should be able to walk away with your body intact and not be labeled a slut and a whore. Gender equality is impossible in any real sense if women live under constant threat of having their bodies taken from them.”

“Its time to remove the idea that women deserve to be punished for having sex. This debate does NOT happen in the abstract, and the women most affected by this are those whose bodies have never been given the real credit of belonging to themselves”

One more thing..

This was from the closing speech of the speaker who made the economic argument against abortion above. Again, I may not agree with her about abortion, but lady has a point.

“How can we come together on our shared goals and stop driving ourselves into corners? …What about violence against women, pregnancy at work, listening to women who had abortions and adoptive birth mothers?”

Yep. That. Let’s do that.