Me, my mum and our abortion stories: why Ireland needs to vote yes

“Ireland Unfree” is a Dazed miniseries telling the stories of Ireland’s daring fight for abortion rights, in the run-up to the monumental Eighth Amendment referendum. Stirring protest, creativity, personal politics and vital conversation, these Irish are pushing for self-reliance. Here we share their journey on Dazed.

With statistics suggesting that one in three women in Britain will need an abortion in her lifetime, it seems access to free, safe and legal abortion should be an integral part of British values. Yet in 2012, after moving to England to study at university, with the ability to make decisions about my bodily autonomy unlike the friends I left at home in Northern Ireland, I still felt shame and stigma around my choice to have an abortion. I share my story openly, in solidarity with those before me who used their pain to change the discourse around abortion rights in their country. I write because this is the time when the “yes” needs human faces, emotions and stories like ours.

It was an uphill and moving fight to convince the Irish government to address the needless damage to the mental and physical health of Irish citizens that a near total ban on abortion has inflicted for generations. The atmosphere for me is reminiscent of 2015 when the marriage equality referendum was held and love reigned supreme with 65% of voters backing marriage equality – it’s fiery but edgy energy , fueled by a fear of being complacent when it comes to calling it historic voting. It’s 2018 and there’s finally a chance to bring women’s rights back into the spotlight: on election day, it will be almost 6 years since I walked into a Marie Stopes clinic in London, as a young academic at eyes wide and petrified.

I cannot vote in the referendum, yet three generations of strong Northern Irish women in my family, including my mother and grandmother, have been oppressed and degraded by the prevailing laws, north and south. In 2012, I was busy trying to settle in an unfamiliar English town as a college freshman — dealing with the unexpected obstacles of leaving, like cheering on students who made fun of my accent. I felt alienated and estranged from my family – I hadn’t considered facing what was the impending, all-consuming doom of navigating a pregnancy crisis my first year in England. Even so, I was hyper-aware of the bodily autonomy “privilege” granted to me as the winner of this “Gilead”-style postcode lottery. Archaic views on women’s rights, LGBT rights and tribal politics had been a dominant factor in my decision to leave Belfast in the first place and I had always been resolute in my support for reproductive rights.

Paranoid teenagers in Ireland spend a lot of time planning for worst-case scenarios – traveling to England and back in a day on a school sick day, taking illegal but safe abortion pills in the quiet of the family bathroom. Know that these decisions are never taken lightly between us. Despite an instant connection with my partner in crime, my cursed capacity for romance had been rocketed to hell by what appeared on the screen of my Clear Blue pregnancy test. The overriding feeling was always shame, followed by gratitude for being entitled to free, safe, and legal medical care when I needed it.

Although I had no doubts about my decision, the culture of misogyny that surrounds women who terminate their pregnancies haunted me. The anti-choice propaganda slogans forced upon me at school stuck to my ribs as a GP in my English practice talked to me about my cycle length and told me about my own body, my accent of Belfast being an awkward buffer.

When I asked for a doctor’s note to explain my future absences from college, while waiting for two reference notes for my dismissal, I was condescendingly told that pregnancy was not a disease. I held back my tears as I obediently suggested that he treat future patents with a little more compassion as he reluctantly wrote my note: “My patient has a medical problem that is stressing him out.” I walked two miles between the doctor’s office and the hallways, sobbing in the rain.

The constant morning sickness was a thrilling reminder as I waited a few weeks to be treated at the clinic of my choice. Despite a close network of supportive friends, I still felt guarded about who I shared the news of my pregnancy crisis with. Some may wonder why I never told them about it: you weren’t my safe space, I was afraid you would judge me. I told my mom the day before I was fired, and it wasn’t until that phone call that she finally addressed her own personal trauma. She, too, felt it was a heavy and shameful burden to share, even with her only daughter.

“The abortion took place on the floor of a house in Belfast – at the time they were performed with soap. She remembers seeing the remains of the owner’s dinner the night before on the stove as she was lying on the ground.

My mother found herself pregnant at a similar age, the first time she had sex. A clandestine abortion was quickly arranged by my small but powerful grandmother, who came from a Catholic background and entered maternity as a teenager after a forced marriage. The abortion took place on the floor of a house in Belfast – at the time they were performed with soap. She remembers seeing the remains of the owner’s dinner from the night before on the stove as she lay on the floor, a dark guest in this stranger’s home, deprived of basic health care and dignity. It was a family home, and all the women in it risked life in prison in the name of my mother’s bodily autonomy.

It was Belfast in the 1970s, and not much has changed – in 2016 a woman was given a suspended sentence after causing her own miscarriage at home, reported to police by her own housemates. In early 2017, authorities raided activists’ homes and seized packets of abortion pills. My mother still feels bound by shame because the law criminalizes abortion – she still fears the stigma, and even the legal consequences. This is why I share our story, and for the generations of Irish women who came before me and will follow me, conditioned by this culture.

When I was treated by the clinic in Ealing (west London), I was strongly warned against pro-life protesters. “If you’re traveling by taxi, make sure they drop you right outside the door” they advised. “Protesters might yell at you, they might even try to keep you out, ignore them as best you can, and hit the door buzzer to gain access to the building.” I shivered as I got out of the taxi, but luckily didn’t encounter the towering, sometimes violent, protesters that others had faced. When I arrived I heard a familiar accent at reception and an older Irish woman signed me up. Less than a month ago, Ealing Council made UK history by banning protesters outside the clinic, thanks to pressure from Sister Supporter.

As sisters north and south of the border march, as people travel home from around the world to vote, and as allies encourage the IRL and URL to push for repeal, we must keep in mind. mind the faceless nine who travel for abortions every day, landing on their Ryanair flights even as the ballot boxes fill up. Whichever way Ireland votes, more will have to be done, and we have to wonder what the Northern Irish government plans to do about those it continues to export, draconian abortion laws which are not yet threatened. We also need to continue to work on the stigma surrounding our bodies and the societal values ​​inherited from Ireland that still inhabit us. On the busy streets, walking arm in arm, across kitchen tables and in the corners of pubs, I hope that no matter what, we will stick together.

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