Claire Malone: Now the No campaign is using my coping against me

The Eighth Amendment denied me the choice I had made, not to continue with a pregnancy

Claire Malone: I didn’t want an abortion, what woman does? But I needed one. I hadn’t planned this pregnancy, but if I believed I could get through it safely, I would have wanted to continue with it. I didn’t believe that.

Claire Malone: I didn’t want an abortion, what woman does? But I needed one. I hadn’t planned this pregnancy, but if I believed I could get through it safely, I would have wanted to continue with it. I didn’t believe that.

 

Some people really don’t trust women. They don’t trust us to make important decisions about our lives, our health, our bodies or our families. They don’t trust us when we say that a pregnancy is damaging our health, when it is such a serious crisis for us that we can’t continue. And as I found out recently, they don’t trust us when we speak out about our experience of life under the Eighth Amendment.

I experienced a crisis pregnancy last July. I have a number of very serious health conditions. In 2014 I had to have one lung removed. Because of two serious cardiac conditions, my heart function is poor. So when I found out I was pregnant, I was shocked, but more than that, I was scared. I was a single mum, in poor health, with two young boys aged nine and ten.

My immediate reaction to the news was to seek support in the UK, to see if I could end the pregnancy there. I already knew a bit about Irish law. I knew that to have an abortion here , there had to be a risk to the life, and not just the health of the pregnant woman.

My doctors confirmed my fears, that I couldn’t end the pregnancy here on the basis of a risk to my health. They also told me that if I continued with the pregnancy, it would be high risk. I was given a list of care providers in England who could give me an abortion for health reasons.

I didn’t want an abortion, what woman does? But I needed one. I hadn’t planned this pregnancy, but if I believed I could get through it safely, I would have wanted to continue with it. I didn’t believe that. And so I made the difficult decision to end the pregnancy, for me, and for my two existing children. I believed the risk of continuing was just too much.

But in the end, my decision didn’t count for anything. The Eighth Amendment means that even where a pregnancy may make a woman gravely ill, she must continue that pregnancy regardless. So, many women travel. They find a hospital or clinic in England that will give them the care they need. But they have to do that alone, without the support of their doctors. The Eighth Amendment means Irish doctors cannot support their patients to safely travel for abortion to another country. And for women like me, with serious health problems, that makes travel impossible.

Some women who can’t travel import abortion pills illegally and use them without medical supervision. I couldn’t do that. My health means that I can’t use hormonal medication, so the pills, though safe for most women, were too dangerous for me. Whatever way I turned, what I knew was right for me and my family, was blocked. I was trapped. I resigned myself to the idea that I had no choice. So I kept going. I stayed focused on being positive, on keeping well. I hid my distress and fear from those around me. I focused not on what I couldn’t control, the risk to my health, but on what I could. I looked forward, and buried the fear. I was brave, for my boys, for my friends, and for my family. I did what mothers everywhere do every day. I coped.

There were good moments of course. My health held up pretty well for the first month or two. I was doing well, all things considered. I let myself get excited about the idea of a new baby. I hoped and prayed that I would survive, and that the baby would too.

But as I got beyond those first few months’ things got much harder. I became very unwell. I could barely cope and developed congestive heart failure. When I went in to labour I was terrified. I felt so very unwell that I just didn’t believe I would make it. Labour was incredibly tough. But I survived and so did my little girl. I spoke about her recently too, about how no one could love her more than me.

And then some in the No campaign decided that, rather than deal with the fact that my experience exposed their big lie about how the Eighth Amendment doesn’t harm women, they would trawl my history and try to discredit me. They went to a blog that I write, and dug up a few posts from very early in my pregnancy. From the time when my emotions would change from delight at my pregnancy to fear for my health. So I wrote about a “happy blooper that we want very much”, that the pregnancy was “worth proceeding with … [W]hatever the outcome”. But the No campaign’s public statement on my blog did not mention what I also wrote there of my anxiety and fear. My mixed emotions were there in black-and-white for all to see, but they picked out what they thought would silence me.

I wrote all of this at a time I made sure I convinced everyone I was managing. A time that I even sometimes convinced myself everything would be ok. I wrote about how my doctors told me that the pregnancy was high risk, but that they would do everything they possible could to get me through it safely. I wrote about being told I was “safe enough” to proceed. I remember latching onto that when I was told it. I had to. And when you think about it, what else could they have told me? I had no other choice anyway. The Eighth Amendment denied me the choice I had made, not to continue with a pregnancy that was an undoubted risk to my health.

The No campaign used my coping against me. They suggested that much of what I said wasn’t true. They suggested that I am so feeble minded that I was manipulated into saying it. Last week on radio they said I had suffered no harm. They really don’t like women women who challenge their simple view of our lives, I think. But my life isn’t simple. For most women, pregnancy and childbirth aren’t simple.

But, for them, it seems it is. Shockingly, one of the leaders of the No side said that that it was right that I was denied an abortion in Ireland. There you have it. A seriously ill single mother who finds herself pregnant, should not be permitted to end that pregnancy to save her health and be able care for her existing children. That’s the Ireland they want to retain. The Eighth Amendment means that I, and countless other women are forced to just endure whatever harm we might suffer if we become pregnant. And that’s the future they want for my daughter too. That when she grows up, and God forbid, should she find herself in the same position as me, she will just have to endure it. It really does seem as if their concern for her ended the moment that she was born.

Claire Malone is a mother of three from Wexford

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