In 2016, 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales to have an abortion, an illegal operation in their home country. South of the border, a further 3,265 women in the Republic made the trip. Although benefitting from the healthcare provided by the NHS in Northern Ireland, women who do not wish to continue with their pregnancies are not able to receive the abortion services offered to women in the three remaining countries that make up the United Kingdom. Northern Irish doctors who refer patients to UK abortion clinics feel the threat of prosecution, with many refusing to help women in such positions for fear of losing their medical license. Although a significant breakthrough in this referral process came about following Amnesty International’s declaration that there was no risk to doctors, many still feel uncomfortable sending their patients overseas.
As one of the 724 women who made the trip to England, I totally resent the current system. I resent the fact that I was made to feel fear at the prospect of visiting my doctor at home, I resent that I had to miss school exams to make the three day trip to London, and I resent the fact that I had to borrow money to pay for my travels. It shouldn’t be like this. I should not have to feel ashamed of the procedure I needed, nor my reasons for it. Irish women should not have to feel rejected and shunned by their own country. I wish to receive the abortion support given to women within the NHS that I am not entitled to because of my Northern Irish nationality. I should not have had to lie to my school about my absence from lessons for almost a full month due to ongoing morning sickness, a late onset symptom that I was suffering from as I waited to get an appointment in England, which served as a reminder of a pregnancy I did not want.
In the Republic of Ireland, where the tightest legal restrictions apply to abortions, women who had to endure the torture of rape are not entitled to a termination. If the pregnancy is the result of incest, or if there are fatal foetal abnormalities that could risk the life of the mother, the same, all-encompassing ban applies. Such laws have claimed the lives of Irish women who have died during childbirth, like Savita Halappanavar in Galway. Savita was made aware of the fact she was to miscarry in 2012. She and her husband and had asked repeatedly for an abortion, were denied this, and Savita died of blood poisoning in hospital following her traumatic miscarriage. Pro-life or pro-choice, I think we should all be able to see the wrong in this. It breaks my heart to think of the fear instilled in Irish women surrounding unwanted pregnancies. Sadness turns to anger, and following the saga I endured trying to get an appointment in London, I hope that women and men can stand with me and demand fundamental reproductive rights for women in Ireland. I hope that I am able to bring up my children in a country where women have bodily integrity, where girls can make their own, informed decisions, accessing vital healthcare with the support of their government. To all pro-life readers, until you are in the position of a woman who wishes to terminate a pregnancy, ensure you communicate your objections about such women with compassion and sensitivity. Do not bash these women, for you may not understand their reasoning, nor comprehend their fear. Such decisions are never made lightly, nor is it an easy choice to make. Put yourself in their shoes. Legalisation of abortion in Ireland, both North and South, will not create a culture of termination as a method of birth control. All it means is that women are entitled to the procedure they have to flee the country for, at home. Freely, safely, legally.
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