EVERY SINGLE DAY, on average, nine women leave Ireland for an abortion in the UK. Three women take illegal abortion pills at home without medical supervision.
It’s easy to forget that behind these statistics, across this entire country, there are twelve individuals going through something so difficult that they resort to these measures.
Here are twelve stories from In Her Shoes – Women of The Eighth, which serve to remind us all about the varying and complex reasons why people choose to terminate pregnancies.
1. “Permanent job? Check. Married? Check. Bought first home? Check. Ready and excited to start our family? Check.“
The woman in this story was eager to become pregnant. Any child that she conceived was very much wanted. She was delighted when she finally found out that she was expecting her first child.
A brief scan was performed at my 15 week first booking appointment, as I looked a little larger than I should have been. That’s why my doctor said “It’s twins!” I was shocked and then terrified. She needed more detailed scans. They were a tricky set of twins, sharing the same placenta and circulation, but in two separate sacs. Okay, but they’ll be fine, won’t they?
Two weeks later, this woman and her partner were referred to a specialist who informed them that the twins were very sick. One was growing larger, but had too much fluid around her, which was restricting the other twin who had not got enough fluid. She learned that the twins had Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome.
They hoped that they might save the bigger twin. They explained it would be the best case scenario, but that losing both would also be a huge possibility and that both surviving would be extremely rare at the stage our twins were at.
Naturally, this woman and her partner were devastated.
We had so little time to even think because they needed to act fast if they were to perform the surgery. Do you allow someone to perform a surgery which will likely cause the death of one sibling in the hope of *maybe* saving the other?
She was told that opting out of the surgery meant that if the smaller twin passed away on her own, the rush of blood and fluid into the surviving twin would cause certain brain damage and organ damage.
By doing nothing and letting nature take its course, we would be inflicting permanent harm on our child if she were to survive. We could barely take it all in.
This woman says that she is forever thankful that she was given a choice in this incredibly tragic situation. The smaller twin died the day after the woman’s surgery, and she had to carry it along with the surviving twin until delivery.
It was the most terrifying period of my life as the uterus was also now less stable due to my surgery. I was afraid to even sneeze in case my waters would break.
She made it to full term, and is forever grateful to everyone who helped to save the life of her surviving daughter. It was only in this woman’s second pregnancy that she felt the full effects of the Eighth Amendment.
After going through so much in her first pregnancy, she was careful to go for regular checkups when she found herself pregnant once again. At 21 weeks, the sonographer discovered a fatal foetal abnormality.
The sonographer went quiet. “Her heart.” She said. “She won’t survive outside the womb. The labour might kill her, or you might be lucky and she’ll die on her own.” The room started spinning, I felt like my heart would explode in my chest. I looked at my husband We were broken. “I thought all our bad luck had already been used up.” He said. I couldn’t breathe.
This time, surgery was not an option. This woman was told “You could travel, but you’ll have to decide in the next few days as they won’t take you if you’re past 24 weeks. Oh, and, legally, we can’t help you make any arrangements.”
We were like two lost souls with absolutely no direction from that point on. Completely abandoned. It tested our sanity, our values, our marriage and our beliefs. We made our decision, as we were faced with no other choice in Ireland: wait until the baby is ready to come herself.
Sadly, things became even more complicated in the following weeks.
If I lived in a different country, I could have been spared the cruelty of the weeks that followed. We told our parents, and no one else. It was the only way I felt I could get through it.
I answered questions every day with a painted smile on my face about my growing bump, with all my friends and colleagues gushing even more than usual, knowing that I had already buried one child. Those weeks are still a blur when I think back.
Three weeks later, when this woman was 24 weeks pregnant she was at a wedding, when her waters broke.
I will never forget trying to get out of that hotel in my full length cream dress, knowing the fresh bright red blood was flowing down the back. I had a huge bump. There were guests and children everywhere. All I could think about was how terrified everyone else would be to see such a sight.
When we got to the hospital, I felt incredibly guilty as the first feelings of relief started to creep in. It’s going to be over soon. How very wrong I was.
In the labour ward, she was told that they could not induce labour until the unborn child had died.
But my waters have ruptured. Don’t I have to be induced now like I was on my first pregnancy due to the risk of infection? They told me “Oh no, not in this case I’m afraid. We’re not allowed to induce labour this early, as the baby won’t survive.” I thought I was in some kind of crazy dream. I told them “But you’ve already told me that this baby will die and that my life is at risk of infection. You don’t understand. I’m a mother. I need to survive for my daughter at home.”
She was trapped. She decided that she had to tell family and friends.
No more pretending. I will be missing work, I will not have my family and friends praying for weeks for a baby that has zero chance of survival. So I let them know that I had been admitted, not for another baby-life-saving surgery as before, but instead to wait for my precious baby to die and finally be at peace.
I couldn’t bear to have visitors while trapped in this limbo. I cut myself off from everyone. For two weeks, I was listening to new babies being wheeled right past my door and analysing my bump yet to see if she’d died yet as I waited for the next scan. They were the darkest weeks I hope I ever have to face.
She was released from hospital to continue the pregnancy, possibly up to 40 weeks. She was told to keep an eye on her temperature and only come back if it was extremely high. After a week, contractions began, and she lost more amniotic fluid.
My little girl gave up the fight a few hours later and it was like entering a parallel universe, only this time I was treatable. I was 27 weeks pregnant. Those 6 weeks of my life have left permanent scars on my sanity and my heart. It could have lasted 19 weeks, but my daughter gave me and the rest of our family that gift.
The baby was allowed to grow inside of her, which made the birth unnecessarily traumatic and lengthened the recovery time. Three days after the baby died, this woman went through the physical and emotional agony of lactating.
You cannot express it, as it will encourage more milk production and the hormones keep going. Another sick twist, for which I was unprepared.
Although this woman was still entitled to full maternity leave, she could not bear the thought of having time on her hands after this ordeal.
Too much time for sadness. Too much time for the child that was no longer there.
2. “As we sat listening to the details of how I would die, and how there was absolutely nothing that they could do to help me, I was already planning the trip in my head.“
Minister Regina Doherty reads out this woman’s harrowing experience for In Her Shoes – Hear My Voice.
We arrived at the clinic where my husband waited for 9 hours while nurses poked, prodded, scanned and gave me the first tablet. We were told to go home and return the next morning for the second tablet.
The next morning, having returned with no sleep, it was then that I received the second tablet and was told to rest for 48 hours. Except, I didn’t have 48 hours. We had to go back home to our children and we already spent £200 on flights and £350 for the procedure. How could we afford to stay for 48 hours?
The Minister for Social Protection says at the end of the video:
These real life experiences are lost in the debate about “trusting politicians” or “not legislating for hard cases”. Can anybody really blame this woman? She is not a “hard case”. She’s a daughter of this country. I think we’re letting her down. I’ve had my own journey in accepting that abortion is sometimes necessary. Like most people: I don’t like it.
Let’s be clear and dispel some of the myths. Termination on the grounds of a disability will be absolutely illegal. Late-term abortions of healthy fetuses will be absolutely illegal. To protect rape victims, there will be a 12-week limit. Any woman who requests a termination will be given the options in a safe, non-judgmental environment in Ireland and she will be asked to wait for 72 hours so she can consider her options.
This story begins with the woman recalling how grown up and cool she felt, the first time that she had gone to a proper party.
My best friend handed me her drink, “Hold this for me”, she says as she laughed. “Got to dance, this is my tune”, as the radio was pumping Maniac. I downed my friends beer. It wasn’t long after that I felt hot and dizzy. Now memories come and go. I was in the garden, someone asking me if I’m okay. Blank. How did I get to the park? Blank. He’s over me and undressing me. Blank. Then pain. What was happening? I came around alone in the park. I put back on my pants and went home.
After this young girl was raped, she withdrew from her regular life.
I avoided my friends and family. I stayed in my room for a long time. I was late, so I went and told my best friend what had happened that night. We cried and held each other after making her swear never to tell.
A visit to her doctor confirmed that she was pregnant. She began to panic and became more and more afraid of how she was going to tell her parents.
Every time I tried to bring the matter up, I would chicken out. We came up with a plan; if I can’t say it to their face, I could do it over the phone. I found a payphone and my mate kept reassuring me “They are your family. They will help you. They love you.” Mum was crying on the phone, saying “Just come home.”
She says that when she arrived home, it was “world war three”. Her older brother shouted at her, calling her a slut and a whore. Her dad walked off, while her mother beat her. “How could you do this to us? The shame you have brought to this door.”
They went to a family planning centre the following day and a phone number was handed to her mother. She felt as though she was invisible in the entire situation as she watched it unfold.
Two days later, we were sitting on a Ryanair flight. We got a taxi to the B&B, the clinic was next door. First stop was counselling. The lady asked how I was feeling and before I could answer, she was told I was only gone fifteen. She looked at me, then to my mother, and wished us the best of luck and handed my mother the referral letter to the clinic.
At the clinic, her mam filled out the forms, kissed her goodbye and told her to “be a good girl and do what you’re told.” After the clinic performed the ultrasound, they learned that she was eighteen weeks gone, which meant she would have to go under anesthetic.
I woke later that night back on the ward listening to the nurse coming and going with patients all night. Some of the girls were talking, telling one another how they came to be there. I was asked how long I was going with my fella and then everything came out about how I was raped, how my family didn’t want to know how I got pregnant. The girl across the way from me looked after me that night. She gave me a friendship bracelet and told me that I was not alone in how I felt, and to remember her.
The woman who shared her story is now 38 years old, but she said that her life fell apart after she was raped. She dropped out of school before the Junior Cert and attempted to take her own life. She left home when she was sixteen, and after a long time away from her family, she began to heal.
I have never told my mother about the rape. I don’t think she could take it, even after all these years.
Now, nearing 40, she has been unable to have children because of complications from the abortion.
I am still angry as hell. I was made to feel invisible. Like I had no choice. Even now, I want to scream “It’s not about abortion, but the right to choose what happens to your body.” I did not choose to be raped, I did not choose to have an abortion. I didn’t have a choice in what happened to me. But I choose to vote ‘Yes’, to take away the shame. To let our voices be heard. To let us have a choice. To that girl who watched over me, thank you. I have never forgotten your kindness.
4. “She couldn’t take time off work. She had contacted a network of women in the North who would get pills, and she’d have to collect them in Belfast.“
Former President of the Irish Farmers’ Association, Eddie Downey, reads the story of a parent who was terrified as they smuggled abortion pills across the border.
She had been given the name of a café and been told to ask for a package under a false name. It was like being in a spy movie. We collected the packet, and I was waiting for the hand of the PSNI to fall on my shoulder.
This parent kept an eye on their daughter, monitoring her temperature in case they needed to go to the hospital. The daughter told them “No way. I’d be arrested.”
I wasn’t sure if this was true or not, so I spent the next few days in a state of high anxiety, thinking that she could die or be terrified if I have to call a doctor.
This woman explained that she never regretted her choice to have an abortion, but has struggled to live with the fear of being found out and being judged as a monster by the people she knows and loves.
When my family GP confirmed I was pregnant, I ran home in floods of tears to my mother. Although very disappointed, she was supportive and asked me what I wanted to do. I knew the minute she asked that I was not at all ready to be a mother, but I was terrified about what that meant.
Her mother was in touch with an English friend, who helped to make an appointment.
My memories of the journey are fuzzy. I remember meeting school friends at the airport and the look of panic and shame on my mother’s face when she hurriedly whispered to me to tell them I was “visiting relatives in England”. I remember looking out of the window of the airplane and thinking “This is not what I imagined my first time on a plane would feel like.”
She remembers her mother’s worried face before the procedure, she remembers breaking down in the street after they left the clinic and remembers her mother comforting her on the way home. After this, they never spoke about the abortion again.
The only time I broached the subject was three years later when I told my mother that I was worried about my ability to have children because I never had any aftercare and maybe I shouldn’t have children at all after what had happened. She didn’t respond. This broke my heart, because I wanted her to tell me that this wasn’t true. At the same time, I know my mother was too scared and ashamed to speak about it. Many years later, I told my sister who was very supportive and speaking about it really helped to lessen the guilt and shame I had been carrying around.
Since this woman had her abortion as a teenager, her father has never spoken about it, either. However, he has joined in with Together For Yes and has been campaigning for repeal. At Christmas, the woman and her sister were speaking about abortion. Her mother realised that the sister knew about it and instantly looked panicked and upset.
I realised that she has suffered just as much as I have, and I also realised, that it was time for this to stop. It is the 8th Amendment that is shameful, not my mother, or I, or any woman who deserves and now demands autonomy and self-determination over their own bodies.
The woman who shared this story said that a year and a half ago, after being so careful with contraceptives, she was caught off guard. When she realised she was pregnant, she didn’t know what to do, because the father was out of the picture and didn’t want anything to do with her.
The first thing I felt when I found out was happiness, despite the situation. I was surprisingly positive about it all. I wanted that baby. I was keeping it.
She was 25 years old at the time, and was convinced that her parents would support her. When she called them, she was upset to hear that they disapproved and were not going to help her out.
I was 25. I’d had a really rough year at the time. I’d had to completely start my life over after the end of a long term relationship. I had €334 in my bank account and was so emotionally all over the place. And now I was alone… The father and my family wanted no part of it.
Despite this woman’s positivity, she realised 8 weeks into the pregnancy that she couldn’t do it alone, no matter how much she wanted to.
I was barely coping with life in general, so what kind of life could I give a child? I decided the responsible thing – the best thing for everyone – was to abort. I hated my decision, but I knew it was the right one.
After this, she had to figure out how she would have an abortion. With no financial support, and nobody to turn to, a friend directed her to a doctor who met her for free.
The doctor was so lovely, so understanding. He explained that the only way I could legally have the operation was through miscarriage and that I would have to force a miscarriage myself. I was horrified and felt trapped. I didn’t have a choice.
He instructed her to send a male friend to collect a prescription for Misoprostal, a drug for stomach ulcers. She was told to take one initially, and then take another every hour until it worked and she ‘passed it’.
He warned me that in choosing to do this, it was going to be a very horrific experience. It makes you bleed uncontrollably, it makes you sick beyond measure, women have ended up in hospital and it was very dangerous. I had no other option. I was so scared, but I went ahead with it.
A friend kept an eye on her while she was taking the tablets. She had warned her friend that no matter how much she begged, she should not be taken to the hospital unless she physically passed out.
It will forever be the worst day of my life. I took those pills for 10 hours and it didn’t work. 10 hours I spent crying, in horrific pain, bleeding everywhere. I was sick all over myself. I couldn’t breathe. The pain is indescribable, physically and mentally. I genuinely feared for my life at the end of it and had to stop. I couldn’t go on anymore. I was distraught.
The next day, she went for a scan and learned she was now “qualified” for surgery after her miscarriage. However, for eight more days, she had to carry her dead baby.
I still have my pregnancy test. I still think about it daily. It will never leave me and I feel sad all the time about how it had to happen. But I don’t regret it. That decision I made was the best decision I could have made. I was in no position for a baby and I’m so glad I get to start a family on my own terms and in the right situation now.
This woman was 22 years-old and a mother to four children. She discovered she was pregnant just seven months after she had her youngest child. She spoke to her partner, who supported her decision because they knew they could not afford another child. It would have a very negative impact on the lives of her existing children.
He supported me in my decision. We had to borrow the money in order for me to go. We had no one to turn to. I couldn’t tell my mother as I thought she would be ashamed of me. I felt so isolated and alone.
When she arrived in England, it was her first time travelling abroad.
I went to the clinic and seen that I wasn’t alone. There were others like me. I had the abortion. I woke feeling relieved but feeling depressed and lonely. I’ve never regretted my choice. It was what was best for me and my family.
As soon as she returned home, life had to return to normal. She found it very difficult to get on with things and needed counselling to understand why she felt so ashamed of herself afterwards.
Yes, I had an abortion. But I’m not a bad person. I had to make a very difficult choice that not only had an affect on me, but my family. I did what was best for us.
8. “We were 19. It was the 90s. We had been together for 3 years. We weren’t ready to parent. We got pregnant.“
This couple went to stay with the boyfriend’s sister in London and stayed for 5 weeks.
We lied a lot. We were supposed to be doing Erasmus in France. We went back there after. My breasts leaked, I wept. His sister knew, her boyfriend too, he knew and I knew. Such a big thing and not to be shared. My heart broke with loneliness and isolation. It hurt. It drove a wedge between me and my family and friends. They never knew.
They returned to Ireland, and the woman went for a check up six weeks after the procedure to make sure everything was okay.
The university doctor was appalled at my disclosure. She called me a slut and said I needed counselling, not a medical checkup. Two years later, another doctor closed my file at my disclosure and refused to continue the appointment. I learned to say I’d had a miscarriage.
She said that she felt “isolated, heartbroken, worried and ignored by the medical profession” and “outcast from society.”
We both have our own children now, proud, willing, engaged and loving parents. It has been a long time for change. I hope this is the time.
9. “He was abusive, mentally and physically and I’m not talking about the odd slap. I’m talking about permanent scars and broken bones.“
When this woman was 25 years-old, she had been in a long term relationship.
I use the term relationship loosely. I was controlled and did as I was told and he did whatever he wanted and I dare not question him.
She had already had a child with this man and began to worry when she felt the symptoms of pregnancy creeping up again.
I knew what my body was telling me and I tried my best to ignore it. I thought about leaving, I thought about running home to my parents and hiding, but I was a broken human being who didn’t have the courage to leave him.
She finally cracked and admitted to her partner that she was pregnant. He was disgusted with her.
To be completely honest, I knew I did not want to continue the pregnancy. We already had a child and another would destroy what little was left of my mental health, as I did everything along as it was. My family weren’t close by and all I had was isolation and whatever odd bit of kindness he would throw my way.
At 13 weeks, she booked the clinic and was heartbroken about her decision but knew it was the only way to get out of the hell that she was living in.
After it was over, I felt deflated and alone as he didn’t support or comfort me in any shape or form and once we hit Irish soil he was back to the same old ways and I was essentially alone.
Not one person that steps on a plane or ferry and has to make the journey over does so on a whim or takes the situation lightly, but should absolutely have the choice to do what’s right for them in whatever situation they may find themselves in. No woman comes home and gets on with their daily lives and forgets the experience. No woman should have to experience the absolute anguish of having to travel in shame and secrecy and come home and live out a normal life with no support. I was lucky and I got out of my situation and have a happy and healthy family that I live for.
10. “I was so broke that I couldn’t even afford the €12 pregnancy test from Boots. Instead I went to the Euro Giant shop.“
This woman had an abortion in 2012. She knew, 100%, that she was certain about her decision.
I knew that with two very ill parents who needed care I could not become a good mother at that time. This was one of a hundred reasons. I still felt a deep sense of shame with myself.
In the years following her abortion, she was miserable. She believes this is because she was conditioned to think that people who accidentally become pregnant are “stupid”, or “sluts”. She thought she would have to feel guilty about her decision for the rest of her life.
It took me years just to tell a few of my closest friends and they showed me such love and understanding that I deeply regret not telling them sooner. I began to realise that I had made the best decision for myself in what was a very painful situation. If you cannot trust a woman with this decision, how can you trust her with a baby?
She said that regularly seeing people in ‘REPEAL’ jumpers, wearing ‘Yes’ badges fills her with emotions.
You can’t imagine what it means to me to see the silence being broken. When I cycle to work every day and see these people supporting me, I feel like they’re saying: We stand with you. You’re a human who experienced something traumatic and you deserved better.
11. “I googled it. I was afraid to look. And when I say afraid, I mean I had to force my head to turn to look at the screen. Force my eyes to open. Force them to focus. My stomach dropped.“
The woman who told this story has been trying to come to terms with what happened to her for the last two years. She has been to two rounds of counselling, written countless cathartic letters of which she has published some, and kept others private.
In June 2016, she was delighted as she went for her 12 week scan.
I was literally full of the joys, having already had a healthy baby boy 4 years earlier, the thoughts of any issues never crossed my mind. I could not wait to tell him he was going to be a big brother. I just needed that precious scan picture. The excitement and giddiness was mounting as I waited to be called.
On the scan, she saw a heartbeat. A hand. A foot. Her baby, that she wanted and loved very much.
I could tell within seconds that something was not right. The room too quiet, too many clicks of the machine, too much hard pressing on my tummy. Most of all, the shape of my little bean was not what you’d expect. She turned to me and held my hand and said she was so, so sorry. No chance for my little one to make it outside of me.
Devastated, she tried dissociated from the situation and barely remembered the word “anencephaly”, the word that she had just learned. A word that changed her entire life in a few seconds. She cried, and came to understand that her pregnancy must come to an end.
I rallied myself to ask the question “What do I do now? Please, please don’t ask me to go to England. Don’t turf me out like I hear ye do. Mind me. Help me.”
Like many others before her, this woman did not receive much help.
I found myself out on the street feeling like I was under water. Looking across at the hospital, feeling like a dumped piece of rubbish. Not even a leaflet with information to guide me. No contact numbers. No assistance whatsoever. All I had was that green folder with the usual pregnancy stuff and one single piece of paper with those words I couldn’t even look at. Others walking past me holding theirs proudly. I wanted to puke. I wanted to die.
She went home and she screamed the house down.
I screamed for my mammy. I screamed in pain and loss and anger. Eventually, I pulled myself together. I knew deep down this was going to need careful and timely attention. I rang my mam and sister, after the tears we made a plan. In a harsh twist, they were both out of the country at the time.
This woman googled her child’s condition. The information and images that she saw were a harsh reality that made her cry, and cry, while holding her stomach and telling her baby that she was so, so sorry. 48 hours later, she had booked her appointment in the UK. She brought her 4-year-old with her, disguising the trip as a visit to relatives.
When I did get to the clinic, they wanted to send me away. I was so sick from the stress of the previous days, they said I was not fit. An understanding nurse and two doctors havig to examine me later, they finally agreed to do it considering the circumstances.
In spite of everything that happened, this woman says that she feels lucky.
Lucky that so many women have stood up before me so that I at least knew this was so wrong. Lucky to have had the financial support to pay for the termination and the flights. Lucky to have been brought up in a house where there is no shame or stigma, only love and compassion. A place where we were encouraged to use our voice.
Minister Helen McEntee shared the heartbreaking story of a couple’s journey to the UK after they learned that their son was not compatible with life.
Today’s my little boy’s birthday. Today he would have been three. Three years ago, I sat at Dublin airport with my husband – tears streaming down my face.
Thinking of my 3-year-old son at home with my mum, my sister saying goodbye to me on the train in floods of tears, my friends sending me texts saying “Thinking of you.” Wishing I was at home with my family and my friends. I was on my way to Liverpool Maternity Hospital.
Our little boy would not make it outside my womb. I was keeping him alive. His ribs kept on breaking, and in turn were crushing his lungs.
The two doctors had such sadness in their eyes. I will never forget their faces. I went back to my own room. My doctors in Ireland said it would not be like labour. It was. I felt every contraction. He was born at 11:50 on a rainy day with no smiles. No phone-calls to family. Just looks of sadness in both of our faces. I cannot remember if I cried. He was taken away to his own nursery.