Why should a woman have to be brave to admit to having an abortion?

“Period arrived! That was a long week of OTC pregnancy tests and obsessively checking the times of the boat to England.” I tweeted that yesterday.

Depending on your point of view, you will either find it hilarious, utterly inappropriate, or a damning indictment of archaic laws that force 12 women a day to leave this country to terminate an unwanted or unviable pregnancy.

For more gems such as these, you can find me on Twitter at @oneilllo (repeat the “l” three times, please. There’s a very patient man in Seattle called Orlando O’Neill who is becoming weary of being congratulated on his “blistering feminist literature”).

This isn’t the first time I’ve had “a scare”, as we say, as if the thought of a group of cells clustering together in your uterus threatening to change your entire life is akin to someone jumping out from behind a door and yelling BOO at you.

However, something about this felt different. 

I’ve considered myself a pro-choice feminist since the age of 15 and I remember heated discussions at school where classmates described abortion as “baby murder”.

I felt sickened. 

Even then, I knew to the very core of my being that if I got pregnant, I would be getting the first boat to England. 

England, the tyrannical oppressor; England, which snuffed out our native language and tried to do the same to our religion; England which stole our potatoes and refused to give us back our six counties.

England would welcome me with open arms and help me in my hour of need. 

England would be my saviour. 

Luckily, I never had to make that decision, and that’s all it was, in the end, luck.

It’s not just about being responsible and being careful and taking precautions. 

Sometimes women do all of those things and their “scare” turns out to be more serious than their period merely being a few days late. 

Sometimes, they are just unlucky.

This week I was lucky again, but it was an interesting experience, because of how vastly different my circumstances have become. 

I now have the resources to travel to the UK, stay in a hotel, and pay for the operation without having to ask someone else for financial help.

My publisher is based in London, so I had the perfect excuse to visit for a few days.

I could do all of this under the cover of darkness, without anyone knowing the truth. 

What surprised me the most was that I wanted to do so; I wanted to keep it a secret.

I have been extremely vocal about my support for abortion rights and the need to repeal the eighth amendment. 

I have signed petitions, gone on marches, and shouted “KEEP YOUR ROSARIES OFF MY OVARIES” at the top of my lungs, burning with fury at the hypocrisy of a country that declares its commitment to attaining equality between the sexes and yet is still attempting to control women’s bodies.

I have applauded friends of mine, such as Róisín Ingle and Tara Flynn, for speaking publicly and for offering a different perspective on the abortion story, one in which a woman simply decided she wanted to retain some autonomy over her reproductive destiny.

It was the wrong time.

It was the wrong man.

I did what was right for me.

Somehow, listening to an Irish woman tell this story, and tell it without guilt, seemed radical.

How brave they are, I said, but I don’t think I realised quite how brave until this week. 

Part of my “brand” as an author (how millennial of me) is being honest and authentic, is speaking my truth and refusing to be silenced by a society that so often tells women to stay quiet.

It was easy to publicly demand a change to Irish law to #RepealTheEighth and to share countless articles about the subject on social media when I could, if asked, answer honestly: “No. I have never had an abortion.”

However, what if I had to have one now? 

Should I write about it? I would feel obliged to do so in order to de-stigmatise the issue.

Here is what a woman who has had an abortion looks like. 

I am not a criminal.

I didn’t feel shame at the thought of having an abortion. 

I didn’t feel guilty or evil or doubtful. 

I felt afraid.

What would my grandmother, a staunchly Catholic woman, say?

Would the more conservative people in my home town refuse to shop in my parents’ butcher shop, because they felt what I had done was akin to murder?

I knew most of my friends would be supportive, but there were a few I was less sure of.

There was one, in particular, who would find my decision unimaginable and the thought of her, someone I have loved fiercely since we were four years of age, looking at me differently felt so devastating it took my breath away.

Then my “scare” ended and I didn’t have to think about this anymore, but it made me question my own courage.

It made me wonder about how shackled I still feel by societal expectations of what women should or shouldn’t do.

I hate that.

I hate the fact that, though women have always and will always choose to have abortions, I live in a country that wants them to feel like criminals for doing so.

I hate the fact that these women are shamed.

I hate the fact they are supposed to slink out of the country to sort out the “problem” and then pretend nothing ever happened.

Don’t air your dirty laundry in public, dear.

I hate the fact that women like Roisin and Tara have to be brave and face public fury in order to help the rest of us to achieve reproductive rights.

Why should it take bravery?

Why should a woman have to be brave to admit to having what should be considered a routine medical procedure?

Mostly, I hate the fact that, when it came to it, I wasn’t sure if I would be brave enough to join them.

I hate the fact I was afraid.

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