Claire’s story of how she came to have an abortion is not typical of the thousands of Irish woman who travel to Britain each year for terminations.
Yet her experience mirrors the heartache of women who endure crisis pregnancies and feel blighted by the choices available to them here.
Her story is among a number of those featured in No More Shame, an online video project that brings personal experiences of abortion into the public domain with videos of well-known actors retelling anonymous abortion stories.
“My husband and I had been together for 10 years and we decided to try to have a baby,” explains Claire (not her real name). “We were delighted when, within a year, I was pregnant.”
Their joy was short-lived when they discovered the baby had anencephaly, a brain condition that is nearly always immediately fatal and those who survive for a short period will be blind, deaf, and unconscious.
“They never regain consciousness,” says Claire. “My daughter would never feel pain but this meant to me that she would never feel comfort either.”
At 14 weeks, her choice was stark: Have a termination or produce a dead child. “I was told I could not have a termination here because of the law. I knew I couldn’t see out the pregnancy and I could not give birth to a dead baby.”
She travelled to an abortion clinic in the UK and had the termination, but experienced little comfort. “I found the staff to be very cold. I wanted to tell them that this was the worst time of my life and I wanted my baby.”
They weren’t interested, an absence of care that she believes would not be found in Ireland if we had a fully functional abortion service.
“I don’t think any woman should be made feel ashamed to have a termination. I hope the law is changed so we can offer the appropriate comfort and care here and that you have your friends and family with you when you need them most.”
No More Shame will receive its national launch today at 7pm in the Black Mariah Gallery in Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre with an interactive exhibition that amplifies real-life abortion stories.
The project, led by Laura Kinsella, a researcher and activist media producer, and Liz Dunphy, journalist and filmmaker, aims to break the silence of the 12 women who leave Ireland daily to terminate pregnancies.
“For too long a culture of silence has choked progress, ensuring continued legal barriers to basic reproductive rights,” says Dr Sandra McEvoy of the department of women’s studies at University College Cork.
“A women’s unqualified right to life was re-established in Irish law with President Michael D Higgins’ signature on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, yet the bill’s restrictive terms would probably not have saved Savita Halappanavar’s life, and it continues to criminalise women who procure terminations on Irish soil, even in cases of rape,” she said.
“The act does nothing to help those couples faced with diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities. No More Shame aims to humanise debate and re-establish the importance of — and respect for — a woman’s life, beyond her reproductive capacity.”
That sense of self-regard was absent with Sinead, who first became pregnant at 16.
“My parents arranged everything,” she says in a video in which she is portrayed by actress Roxanna Nic Liam. “They sent me to a home to have the baby. I wasn’t given a say in the adoption and I felt as if I had done something awful. It was desperate at home. I was lucky my Dad didn’t kill me. I had the baby just over a week and then she was taken. It was the worst thing I ever went through.”
Sinead (also an assumed name) got pregnant again at 19. “I thought about keeping the baby, but how could I, after giving the first one away?”
She enlisted the help of her brother because she needed money and a cover story for being away. “He helped but he made it clear he didn’t like it. I had to arrange the abortion myself. My boyfriend came with me but he was useless.”
Afterwards, she felt a mixture of relief and upset, but is adamant she did the right thing.
* No More Shame will be available to view at youtube.com/user/NoMoreShameIreland after today’s launch, and people are invited to upload their own videos to YouTube.