When it comes to pregnancy terminations, Ireland has some of the strictest laws in the world. Here, one woman who suffered at the hands of them shares her story
In February 2011, after a week of feeling nauseous and tired, my worst fears were confirmed: I was pregnant.
Unfortunately, around this same time, I was living in Ireland. A country where abortion is illegal in nearly all circumstances.
I had always been aware of Ireland's reputation on abortion and reproductive rights. My parents worked as a teacher and a nurse, and campaigned heavily against the 8th amendment in 1983, so I was always conscious of Ireland's laws to restrict women's bodily autonomy. Even then, at just 19-years-old, I was aware that I’d always need an escape plan.
In this case, that plan was Women On Web. I had heard about their work a year beforehand, after reading an anthology of essays on abortion by pro-choice activist Sarah Diehl. Women On Web send packages of abortion pills to women seeking terminations in countries where it is illegal, so I contacted them immediately after I discovered I was pregnant. I did a consultation via their website and discovered very quickly they could not send the pills to me in Dublin, as their packages had been seized in the past by customs. However, they offered an alternative to send the packages to an address in the North. I lied to a friend in Belfast that I needed to send a package to their place because the company I was ordering from would only send to UK addresses. I felt bad implicating them without their knowledge, but I had no other choice.
“Irish residents are not covered by the NHS and so have to go private – meaning that between flights and the procedure itself, you could be paying up to 1500 euros”
Why did I opt for an illegal abortion in Ireland, rather than traveling to the UK? It’s simple: I couldn’t afford to go to the UK. Irish residents are not covered by the NHS and so have to go private – meaning that between flights and the procedure itself, you could be paying up to 1500 euros (£1186), possibly more. The abortion pills in comparison cost me 80 euros, and the fare to Belfast to pick up the pills was only 20 euros. I was lucky enough to have Christmas money saved to pay for it all, otherwise I’m not sure what I would have done.
During this entire time, I didn’t tell a soul about my pregnancy; nor my plans to abort it. I had only been living in Ireland for six months and in early 2011 abortion was not an easy topic to bring up with your peers. I wasn't sure who to trust and felt ashamed for landing myself in this situation, scared that I would be patronised or condemned. It was only after I got back from Belfast that I decided to tell one of my housemates, who I knew was pro-choice and was very supportive once I told her. Women on Web emphasised on their website, the importance of having someone around in case something did go wrong (though I would like to stress that the abortion pill is safer than giving birth).
I didn't want to tell the person who had got me pregnant. I thought he would blame me for forgetting to take my birth control pills. I did tell him about the abortion a couple days after it had happened, though, and he offered me money towards the procedure. However, he didn't give me the emotional support that I was looking for – though that didn’t surprise me in any way. I was just glad he didn't blame me for putting myself in that situation.
In the evening on Valentine's Day, I took the first set of pills, called Mifepristone, which would stop the secretions of hormones for the pregnancy to continue. Four hours later, I took the second set of Misoprostol pills, which dissolved under my tongue for 30 minutes. I couldn't swallow them whole, as often women end up puking them up and then need a new set of pills. Dissolving them under your tongue means they go straight into the blood. I puked shortly after the administration of the second set pills (never was I happier to have an ensuite bathroom). An hour later, the cramping began and was curled up in pain for hours later, before eventually going to the loo and seeing what I was aborting. It was nothing larger than a blood clot. It looked exactly how people had described on the website, and I was relieved. I was really afraid it wouldn't work, and I'd have to wait longer and spend money I didn't have to order another set of abortion pills.
“The cramping began and was curled up in pain for hours later, before eventually going to the loo and seeing what I was aborting. It was nothing larger than a blood clot”
On Women On Web's website, you can read stories published by women who had also had terminated their pregnancy with the same pills. Before and after the abortion, these stories were a source of comfort for me. I scoured the internet of people who had abortions and didn't feel guilty about them. I just needed affirmation that I wasn't alone. The experience was lonely, I didn't know anyone who had an abortion and living in a country where abortion is criminalised and thereby stigmatised – no-one talks about having an abortion, especially ones that people don't regret.
Things have changed in Ireland since 2011, and increasingly we are hearing stories from women who have had abortions – including illegal ones like mine. These women have all found themselves in much the same situation as me; with no money to travel for an abortion, and having to pick up the pills through underground support networks. Hearing how these women opted for an abortion, and did not regret it, helped me immensely. By sharing my story, I hope I can make others faced with this same decision feel less alone too.
Learn more about Women On Web on their website here, or join the Abortion Rights’ campaign here