By David Brown
AN Irish woman who had an abortion in 16 years ago this month has for the first time spoken of the difficulty of her ordeal as she became one of 150,000 to travel to the UK for terminations.
Alice was 24 when she made the very difficult decision to have an abortion. She felt helpless, like the women who came before and after her.
And today she has spoken to Ireland Today in the hope that her voice will be added to a mounting movement to repeal the 8th Amendment – to protect women and give them the autonomy to decide what will become of their futures.
Alice, now in her 40s, is now the mother to a young child but she still remembers the rows of beds in the abortion clinic – and the other Irish women there when she travelled to England in November 1999 to have an abortion.
“Everyone in the room was there from Ireland, for the same reason,” Alice said.
“There was a girl across from me, waiting, she was about 15 or 16. She didn’t speak to anyone, she just cried under her blankets all the time.
“Then, on the opposite side, there was a woman, in her forties who had raised her whole family and they were all grown up.
“She had started a new relationship and they had been living together for a while.
“She got pregnant, went for tests, she was expecting twins, then they told her that they both had down syndrome so she decided that she wouldn’t be able to cope.”
Alice desperately wanted a child, but she was in a bad relationship and felt it was not the right time to become a mother.
“When I found out, I was absolutely devastated because I always wanted children.
“I knew I couldn’t have this baby, because I was in a relationship that was very unhealthy,” Alic said.
“It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made because I always said I’d have my first child by the time I’m 25.
“So, it really was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
Due to Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, Alice found it difficult to even access information on travelling to England for the abortion.
Even today many of her nearest and dearest do not know what she went through all those years ago and she feels sorrow for women still enduring this pain in Ireland today.
She tried to seek family planning advice in Dublin, but the staff weren’t in a position to give her much help due to the law restricting such information from being circulated.
“I went on my lunch break to ask them how and where I can go.
“They weren’t in a position to talk to me about it but they handed me a leaflet.
“They couldn’t call anyone or help me set up any appointments.
“They gave me a list of places I could make your own arrangements for.”
Alice made the enquiries and booked everything on her credit card. She had never felt such despair or so alone in her life.
She struggles to believe women are still enduring this treatment in Ireland after all these years.
She feels lucky that she had a credit card at the time as others in her situation may not have been in a position to travel.
“If I hadn’t had that credit card, I wouldn’t have been able to go, which didn’t make it a good reason to continue the pregnancy and carry that baby to full term,” Alice said.
Alice arrived in to the abortion clinic in England in the morning and had the procedure, then returned to the hotel that she was staying in.
“If you’re foreign or don’t live locally, you’re supposed to stay overnight, but I convinced them to let me go because I was in a hotel up the road.
“I was told I had to be within an hour of a hospital in case there was clotting or any sort of bleeding.
“I told them I just wanted to go to the hotel and sleep.
“ In fairness to them, they did let me go. They let me out about half six that evening.”
Alice experienced mixed feelings after she had the procedure – a matter only women who have been through a termination in such circumstances might understand.
“Initially, straight after I felt an unusual high of relief,” she said.
“But I think it was also shock and panic.”
Alice said that immediately afterwards, it seemed that everywhere she went she was reminded of women having children – and the happiness that is meant to come with that experience.
“I went back to the hotel room and Friends was on and Phoebe was having her triplets.
“Everywhere I went, I saw babies and mothers. I felt bombarded with these images.
“And all of a sudden I took notice of new mothers and babies.”
It became very difficult for Alice after the termination and she struggled go manage her feelings after the initial shock.
“I crashed, I really did,” she said of the depression that she suffered for around a year afterwards.
“I went into a horrible depression and felt guilt.”
Alice had the support of friends to help her through this difficult time – but she still found the trauma of having to travel to England for an abortion – and the cultural guilt forced upon women in Ireland, too much to bear.
“When I went through the major depression, I went to the doctor and I got prescribed antidepressants,” she said.
“When I got home after the GP appointment, I was sitting on my bed with my friend. I had the tablets in my hand and thought, ‘If I start taking these now, I’m not going to deal with the issue’ and I threw the prescription in the bin.”
Instead, Alice sought solace in music and her best friend, who she found more helpful than talking to a counsellor.
“I didn’t really want to talk to anyone that was a stranger,” she said.
“I had my friend, my best-friend and she was great. I leaned on her really as we have done throughout our lives. She was my counsel.
“Maybe at the time, it was because I didn’t find the help I needed before I went, so I felt that I couldn’t get it after.
“I wasn’t very open with strangers back then, anyway.”
Alice now dotes on the baby she went on to have and she is at peace with the decision she made.
“I absolutely love being a mother,” she said. “It’s challenging, but it’s amazing. I’m lucky she’s a happy baby.”
In spite of a rise in support for repealing the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution, there seems to be little political will to hold a referendum on the issue but Alice believes that abortion should be made legal in Ireland.
“It’s the woman’s personal decision,” she said. “Whether women think you can make the decision or not, and they may regret it, the consequences are theirs to deal with.”
She is also unimpressed with the pro-life campaigners. While the pro-choice movement is growing – with Irish women taking to the streets recently to protest.
And an active social networking campaign lobbying to see the 8th Amendment repealed – pro life groups are also very active across Ireland, protesting and lobbying with their message that the unborn’s life should be protected.
Alice said pro-lifers are dictating to women how they should behave and trying to take their right to choose what happens to their bodies – yet they are not offering any tangible assistance to mothers experiencing crisis pregnancies.
“How many of them are adopting babies?” Alice said. “How many of them are fostering babies?
“How many of them are going to food banks and donating to the people who’ve had crisis pregnancies?”
Although she is happy with the choices that she made, Alice believes that travelling to England made the whole process harder than it should have been and that she and the thousands of other Irish women who have made the journey should be able to access terminations in their own home country.
Having a termination in a different country, only adds to the trauma of the already difficult situation, she said.
“There’s no such thing as pro-abortion. Nobody wants to have one, and anyone who tells you that they did, is lying to you,” she said.
“Nobody wants to, it’s just the situation that they’re in and it has to be done.
“It’s the hardest, hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life but I don’t regret it.”
Alice is just one voice from thousands telling her story in the hope that the Irish Government will hold a referendum and let the Irish public decide if the 8th Amendment should be repealed to allow women to access abortions in times of crisis in their home country – rather than leaving women to continue travelling to England for care.
The woman’s name in this article has been changed to protect her identity