Analysis: Troubling insight into lonely world of crisis pregnancy
Money shortages and lack of expert advice conspired against mother of one, says her husband
She died on her own – in a strange taxi, in a foreign city, on a street she didn’t know. The circumstances surrounding the death of a 32-year-old mother who travelled to London for an abortion provide a troubling insight into the kind of human distress and displacement many women experience when they seek a termination abroad.
Thousands of women who travel abroad from Ireland each year to access abortion services are not breaking any law. However, for many, it remains a furtive process in which patients feel isolated and stigmatised.
The mother of one opted to have an abortion after complications were uncovered by doctors during a previous pregnancy. She was found to have
extensive fibroids. It was not a life-threatening condition, but it did raise the risk of a miscarriage and a painful pregnancy.
Seeking an abortion wasn’t an easy decision, the woman’s husband said.
The couple already had a daughter. However, given the potential difficulties they decided to seek a termination.
“We were told about all the complications . . . But we felt on our own when
we decided to look for an abortion,” he said.
“We were left to find a [abortion] clinic ourselves. Many told us no, it is not possible because it was too late . . . The only person who was very helpful was a midwife, who helped to find a clinic for us. She did this on her own to help us.”
The woman travelled over to London on her own the day before the termination. By then she was 20 weeks pregnant. It was later than she would have wanted, but money shortages and a lack of expert advice conspired against her, according her husband.
She had the termination on a Saturday. After being discharged several hours later, she was in a taxi en route to a cousin’s house outside London when tragedy struck.
She was suffering from major internal bleeding. The taxi driver pulled over at Thirkleby Close – a side-street near Slough, on the outskirts of west London. However, by the time the ambulance came, it was too late. She had died of an apparent cardiac arrest, linked to extensive blood loss.
There are many unanswered questions which surround the death of this mother. Were there medical complications or did she receive substandard care? Was her condition exacerbated by having to travel abroad? To what extent was her health deemed to be at risk by health professionals in Dublin?
The Marie Stopes clinic, where the woman had the abortion, has declined to comment on the basis of client confidentiality, while the Rotunda, where the woman was treated, says it does not make statements on the health of patients or former patients.
These are questions which will only be answered after a police investigation has concluded and an inquest is held.
For many, however, it raises wider issues around the real experiences of women who seek abortions following crisis pregnancies. The hardship is often compounded by poverty, language difficulties, travel restrictions for migrant and asylum-seeking women; unsupportive family and friends or diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.
In addition, the health system in Ireland, say many, is one that turns its back on patients who seek abortions rather than embracing them.
That was Michelle Harte’s experience. She was a cancer patient who was told she was unable to have an abortion at home because her life was not under immediate threat. She had to travel to the UK for an abortion, but was shocked at how the system ignored her on her return.
“The whole experience was horrendous,” she told this newspaper in 2010.
“When I got home, I was very much
left on my own. There was no follow-up or support, either medically or emotionally . . . [It was] as if nothing had happened.”
She died several months later. She had decided to tell her story publicly in the hope it would result in a more humane experience for other women.
There have been improvements. The Crisis Pregnancy Programme funds free post-abortion counselling to any woman who needs it. It also funds post-abortion medical check-ups, which are recommended for any woman three weeks after having an abortion.
In reality, many are often reluctant to access this support. There is still a culture of silence and stigma.
And for many, it remains an isolating experience marked by distress, anger and frustration.