From the heart: One woman’s experience of abortion

Weekend’s Michelle Darmody writes about her abortion, and her hope that marches and protests on International Women’s Day will bring the country a step closer to a referendum.

Marching for what you believe in has long been a form of protest, a way of showing those in power that you do not agree, and that you feel strongly that change is needed. 

I marched in 2003 against the Iraq war along with millions and millions of others around the globe. The Bush administration managed to unite the world like no one else ever had. 

From Antarctica to the streets of New York City, people stood together calling for the war effort to cease. The war went ahead.

I, like many millions of others, felt deflated and disheartened and felt that a new form of protest was needed. 

But in the past few years, movements have grown out of marches and and have swollen to a stage where they are not being ignored, the media is paying attention and perhaps the few in power are as well.

On Wednesday, to coincide with International Women’s Day, there will be a march, and a call for women to strike. 

In Ireland there are many pressing issues facing women but the pain and suffering that the eighth amendment inflicts on thousands of Irish citizens each year will be at the forefront of the debate.

This debate is nuanced and complicated and very difficult. There is no joyful story, as there was with the marriage equality referendum; there will be no rainbows in the sun-filled courtyards of Dublin Castle. 

That Saturday that the votes were counted, I was so proud of being Irish, proud of my country’s compassion and kindness, and proud that my friends can now count themselves as equal. 

It is now time to embrace this energy in a call for Irish women to have control of their futures and to allow the suspicion and dogma around abortion to ebb way.

More than 20 years ago, the thing happened that you think will never happen you. Even after precaution, a pregnancy test came back positive; my heart raced, my eyes swum. It is hard to take in. 

I did not know where to turn and, not wanting to burden my family, I turned to friends for help. There is always someone who has made the journey before you to lend a helping hand.

I then began the expensive and lonely process to trying to get to England. 

Travelling alone at a vulnerable time and staying on the floor of a friend of a friend’s flat was the only financially viably option. 

The kind, attentive, and understanding service I received from the English doctors left me indebted to them. I was so grateful not to have to talk in whispers and could instead have a pertinent conversation. 

A restless night was followed by a long, lonely trip home with no medical follow-up, pale and wane, alone, broke. I knew instantly that it was the right decision for me.

I am lucky to enjoy my life and I appreciate all that it offers me and I think this one decision I made over 20 years ago was seminal to my future. 

It was one of the single most significant and difficult decisions I have made and it was my decision to make, not the taoiseach’s, not the Church’s, and not that of anyone else. It was mine and I was not allowed make it in my own country. 

I was exported, like thousands of other women are every day of every single year. 

No one should have to speak about a personal or medical matter but I want to speak in the hope that some of the people who can help stop the export will be listening. 

We have abortion in Irish society, we just do not have it “under our roof”.

To have an abortion is not an easy decision for any woman and it is understandably an upsetting and unsettling one. 

It is definitely not the decision for everyone, but those who do make it should be allowed do so without repercussion, shame, or loneliness. 

It is hard enough without having to sneak and hide away. 

Women of every age leave Ireland to access safe abortions; many are mothers already who feel unable to have more children. Those on low incomes find it far harder to access the funds needed to cross the water.

If every one of the thousands of women who have an abortion each year felt able to stand up and say, ‘I have travelled’ — ‘Me too!’ then people around them would see how wide reaching abortion is. 

If their family and friends felt able to stand up in support of them, the Government would have to listen. 

It would be wonderful if men who felt a change is needed also stand up and speak out, if only for the simple reason that the whole of the electorate would be involved. 

It would widen the base of the conversation and help facilitate a more inclusive conversation.

Putting my family into a position where they fear others will think bad of me and will be against a decision that I made, made me think seriously about writing this article. 

I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their faith and understanding. 

When I have a platform available to me to further a conversation, I feel I need to take that opportunity. 

I need to show solidarity with hundreds of thousands of other Irish women who have also had to stand alone at a bus stops, sore and vulnerable, wishing they were going home to their own beds but knowing they are far away.

On March 8, I hope we will get a step closer to a referendum that will make women more equal in this country of ours. 

When casting that ballot paper in a referendum, there is a feeling that each vote will count — every vote will help to shape the Constitution that binds our nation. 

Change is not inevitable, it is eked out and hard won. 

It can also be scary and unknown, but with each passing year we are all ageing and the people coming behind us will inherit what we create. The change is for them more than us. 

A vote will only come after

years of pushing and making visible the plight of women. 

More of our citizens were made equal after the last referendum when the majority of the country stood together and voted for their friends and colleagues. 

Now it is time for all of Ireland to voice their support for their female friends and colleagues. 

It is time to extend that compassion, empathy, and understanding to Irish women to allow them to make their own choices about their bodies and their futures.

March4Repeal Dublin starts at 5.30pm on Wednesday from the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square.

The Strike4Repeal march, Cork takes place Wednesday 12pm - 3pm at bottom of Patricks’s Hill at the beginning of MacCurtin Street.


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