Abortion testimonies: ‘They made me feel like my life didn’t matter’

Women directly affected by Irish abortion laws speak to Citizens’ Assembly

Six women who were directly affected by the abortion laws in Ireland have given personal testimony to the Citizens’ Assembly examining the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Six women who were directly affected by the abortion laws in Ireland have given personal testimony to the Citizens’ Assembly examining the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Six women who were directly affected by the State’s abortion laws have given personal testimony to the Citizens’ Assembly examining the Eighth Amendment.

The pre-recorded audio interviews were played to the 99 members of the assembly on Saturday afternoon with one going back almost 50 years.

The first woman got pregnant after a one night stand though the man was using a condom. As a consequence she did not take the morning after pill.

“The first thing that came into my head was an abortion,” she said. “I’m not ready. I don’t have a partner. I don’t have a stable job. I was still living with my mother.”

She arranged to stay with her sister the day of the abortion and cried as she told the assembly of her feelings as she got on a plane for London. “If this plane crashes, everybody will know that I am pregnant,” she said.

She felt lucky to be able to return to her sister’s apartment after the termination and felt sorry for women who have to get back on a plane immediately after the procedure.

She had counselling afterwards, but told the assembly she had no regrets. “I still feel exactly the same way as I did then. I don’t regret it at all. It was the best decision I ever made for me.”

The second woman got pregnant at the age of 19 in 1970 after having sex for the first time. She said abortion was not an option for her.

Her mother was “screaming crying” when she announced she was pregnant and spoke of a sense of shame around her pregnancy.

The woman married the father of her child, but the marriage was not happy and she had been “in and out” of the Archbishop’s palace looking for an annulment.

The woman told the assembly that if abortion had been available “I would be straight there with the stresses I was under and my child wouldn’t be here today”.

However, she does not regret keeping her child and has two grandchildren. “I would hate to think where my life would have gone if I had had an abortion. There is no recovery from that. I just wish people would give life a chance.”

The third woman had two children at a young age 14 months apart. She was attacked violently by a stranger and had panic attacks.

She was in recovery and using contraception recommended by her doctor when she became pregnant again.

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“I don’t think I was mentally capable of having another child. Financially, that was equally as scary. We were a one wage family. We both did not want another child.

“I had already given up my carefree years to have children and I didn’t regret that at all. I love my children deeply, but I knew it wasn’t the right choice.”

She borrowed the money from a loan shark to go to Liverpool for an abortion. “It was unbelievably expensive,” she said. “You’re just a dirty woman who is being shipped off like trash. You don’t deserve to be looked after in your own country.

“They ship you across the Irish Sea and let others deal with your mistake. Even though you know you are doing the right thing, you are still ashamed. I don’t think that is right.”

‘Life didn’t matter’

The members of the assembly also heard from two women who discovered their babies had life-limiting conditions.

One woman discovered her female baby had a complete extra set of chromosomes which was fatal. The doctor informed her that the baby girl was not likely to live past 16 to 17 weeks in the womb, but she did not die.

She said she was forced to carry the baby despite the fact that it was not likely to live. “They (the doctors) told me that as long as there was a heartbeat, they couldn’t induce me. They made me feel like my life didn’t matter, that my life was the same as my unviable baby.

“I felt that going ahead with the pregnancy was putting my life at risk and it wasn’t going to change the outcome.”

She said her health started to deteriorate and she decided late in the pregnancy to go to Liverpool.

She expressed anger at having to do this. “Not all pregnancies will have a happy ending. Women will have to end their pregnancies.”

‘So perfect and imperfect’

A fifth mother said her baby had been diagnosed in the womb with anencephaly, a condition incompatible with life. She was told that the child might be born alive, but would certainly die a short time afterwards.

She was told by a doctor that she could end her son’s life by an injection through the heart.

She knew he was going to die, but she said she had a choice as to whether he would live or not until he was born and she chose to carry him to term.

When he was born, he was “so beautiful and so vulnerable, so perfect and imperfect”.

She told the assembly that she and her husband had been grateful that she allowed him to be born. “I get so upset when I hear mothers like myself being ‘forced’ to carry our babies to term and that babies like this are the reasons we need abortion in Ireland. ”

The last woman who gave testimony got pregnant in 1999 at the age of 20. She and her boyfriend were using contraception. When the condom broke she had to go to Belfast for the morning after pill, but still got pregnant.

She was distressed and contemplated an abortion but decided against it. She was told in a counselling situation that if she had an abortion she might face 14 years in jail.

“The damage had been done by that conversation with the counsellor,” she said. “A seed had been sown. I was worried somebody would say something to the guards. In that fear I made a decision to continue on the pregnancy.”

Her mother told her that if she had an abortion, she would not support her.

She gave birth to a son and spoke of how while her friends were travelling the world she was looking for housing as a single mother. It changed the trajectory of her life. She left college and started working at minimum wage jobs. All her choices became “really limited”.

She told the assembly she was glad she kept her son, but felt angry that the choice of an abortion was not available to her at the time. “Living with the consequence of it (the pregnancy) was forced upon me.”

“All sense of dignity went out the window. The foundation document of our Proclamation was cherish all of the children of the State equally. I didn’t feel cherished.

“I was totally and utterly othered by the Constitution and the legal system.”