A Donegal woman’s story of travelling to the UK six years ago for an abortion
“The journey was horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Mary (not her real name) recounts over the phone.
Mary travelled abroad to England six years ago to have an abortion. As she speaks, it becomes clear that having a termination was a very hard decision for her.
“I wasn’t in the right situation to raise a child, I was far too young,” she says.
Mary’s story is similar to those of many other women across Donegal today.
Eighty-eight women from Donegal travelled to the Britain to have an abortion last year alone, according to figures released by the UK Department of Health recently.
Overall in Ireland, 3,735 women left the country to seek terminations abroad. This is a slight increase from last year’s number which stands at 3,679.
Five Irish residents who travelled to the UK last year had abortions on the grounds of a risk to the life of the pregnant women, after the commencement of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in Ireland on January 1st 2014.
Almost 9 in 10 Irish residents who travelled to the UK for an abortion last year were between the ages of 18 and 39.
These figures might shock many people in Donegal. Often the topic of abortion is a faraway one. If it’s not happening on our doorstep, we don’t feel the need to discuss it.
These statistics show that while abortion may not be happening right under our noses, it is happening. It’s happening behind closed doors and across the Irish Sea.
“Very few people know what happened,” Mary states. “Just my close family.”
Women in our county are facing this tough decision often without support or information. At the moment doctors face harsh penalties (up to €4,000 in fines) for referring a woman for an abortion, or giving comprehensive information about the procedure.
Mary herself realised how the lack of information readily available to women left them feeling alone at such a hard time.
“No one tells you anything, you end up Googling things yourself just to find out.”
It’s very easy to bury our heads in the sand in relation to abortion. Quite frankly, as a nation, we have been doing it for years. However, talking about this issue is the only way to determine what the best course of action is.
Amnesty International’s report on Ireland’s abortion laws this week has thrown the topic back into the limelight. Human rights lawyer, Christina Zampas, spoke at the launch of the report. Zampas said some of the women interviewed for the report had considered suicide, noting: “One woman told us how she was calculating how to throw herself in front of a truck or which to bridge jump off.”
She also mentioned that a lot of women risk their health by buying unknown abortion pills over the internet. Often this is seen as a cheaper alternative for women worried about the costs entailed with travelling to the UK. There is no way of telling how many women in Donegal chose this method in recent years.
The Amnesty International report states that 177,000 women have left Ireland for abortions since 1971. This has been an issue for Irish women for decades, it’s about time we discussed it openly.
The topic of abortion is never an easy one. It’s full of emotion and feelings. Often we are torn between the rights of the mother and the rights of the child. People all around the county have different opinions on the matter. What we need now is more healthy debate and increased protection and information for the young women facing this difficult decision.
The Women’s Voices page will be taking a break for July and August but will return again in September 2015. A special thank you to Diarmaid Doherty and Michael Daly of the Donegal Democrat for their continued support.