Guest post by Taryn Gleeson
Just shy of 20,000 women left Ireland between 2000 and 2014 to have an abortion. No one knows the number of women who ordered abortion pills from womenhelp.org or womenonwaves.org (the most reputable online abortion pill providers). Due to the hassle free nature of abortion pills, the safety of them, the relative cheapness and the less invasive nature of the pills I suspect it’s in the thousands. Abortion pills can be taken up until 9 weeks of pregnancy and most women are aware they are pregnant well before 9 weeks – so in theory if abortion pills were widely available (and free and legal, I hasten to add) it would seem that the numbers of women needing a surgical abortion would be fairly small. Because let’s face it, when faced with a choice, who would choose an invasive surgical procedure in another country over swallowing a few pills in the comfort of their own home?
I didn’t find out about the abortion pill until I was about 35. Before that I had no idea it existed. I knew of loads of women who had had abortions (roughly half the women I know) but I only knew about surgical abortions. That somewhat blows my mind as I’m not Irish (where such information is wilfully kept from girls), I’m Australian. How did I not know that there are some pills you can take that are safe, effective and fairly trauma free? How is it that this information is not readily available to girls and women across the world?
We had what I thought was great sex education when I was at school. I can remember in our mixed-gender school that we all had to have a go at putting the condom on the banana. It was a great start to my sex education (that and the wonderful children’s book ‘Where do I come from?’) but I don’t remember anyone telling me about abortions. Now that I have kids in school in Ireland I have to ring the schools every year and tell the SPE teacher that I do NOT want my child attending any class that tells him or her that masturbation is bad or sinful, and I do NOT want my children being told anything about abortions. My level of trust in the Catholic-run education system to teach my children about sex is very low. Non-existent, in fact. I don’t want any religious-minded person influencing how my child thinks about their beautiful, strong, healthy and normal bodies, nor do I want anyone teaching my children that women and girls should not enjoy equal autonomy over their bodies to men and boys. I have based my assumptions about the Irish schooling system’s ability to do a good job on my interactions with Irish people over the last 18 years. Not to say Irish people aren’t as a whole pretty bloody great, but a disproportionate amount of them seem to have some serious guilt and shame issues going on, especially with relation to sex and their own bodies. So, as a Mum, I say no thanks to all that for my kids.
I’ve also heard my grown-up friends tell me some very distressing stories about how they learnt about abortion. Like being made to watch a video of a late-term abortion, at school. (The rarest type of abortion performed, FYI.) Like the woman I know who at 18 found out she was pregnant, called the crisis pregnancy hotline and was then picked up and driven to a house where she was made to watch a similar film before being taken, weeping, into a room to be ‘coerced’ (her word) into continuing with the pregnancy. Or like another friend who remembers being a 10-year-old when a stranger on the street handed her a flyer with pictures of dead and dismembered babies on it. ‘Abortion is murder’ written large on a sign behind them. This is how a lot of Irish people seem to learn about abortion.
Here’s what I said to (all) my kids (aged 5, 7, 10, 13 and 15): “Sometimes a woman finds out she is pregnant and she doesn’t want to be. So she can take some pills to get rid of the cells in her uterus and make her not pregnant anymore. Sometimes a woman wants to be pregnant but finds out there is something very wrong with the baby she is carrying, or finds out that if she continues with the pregnancy it will be harmful to her health or her life. There are lots of reasons why a woman might need an abortion. Sometimes a surgical abortion has to be done where the foetus is surgically removed.”
My kids were totally cool with this information. When I had an abortion I told my older children about it. They wanted to know why I wasn’t continuing with the pregnancy and I told them. “I don’t want another baby. I already feel like I don’t have enough time for the kids I have.” There was actually a very long list of reasons why I wanted an abortion, but the most important one for me was because I didn’t want another child. I feel that is reason enough for an abortion. If I, or any other woman living in Ireland, am pregnant and don’t want to be, then under Irish law I have no choice but to continue with an enforced pregnancy. That to my mind is akin to torture. It should be seen as a violation of a woman’s human rights to force someone to carry an unwanted foetus in their body.
I wrote about my abortion a few weeks ago and Parents for Choice shared it. Since then women have been approaching me or messaging me to share their stories. A lot of them are young women. Some l know and some I hardly know.
They tell me whispered stories. They tell me of their loneliness, the fear they felt, of having to wait until they had enough money before they could travel, of not speaking the language and not understanding what to do. They speak of their families who they feel would never understand, who they say they can never tell. Heartbreaking stories. These are not stories of regret, they are stories of sadness, that the country they live in forced them at their darkest hour to travel abroad or to break the law. And that they don’t feel safe to share the trauma of that, that it is on their shoulders alone – they are left unsupported and carrying all the pain. That is the reality of the current laws: a generation of traumatised women.
I go home and I tell my children that I will help them if they are ever in trouble, that if they or their partners need an abortion I will help. That there is no conversation they cannot have with me. Because Ireland has enough lonely daughters.
It really is time to start trusting women and repeal the 8th.
Taryn Gleeson is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, and one half of Love With Ease Please, providing coaching for couples and individuals who are looking for authentic and conscious, loving relationships.