LOUISE O'NEILL: I knew I would be vilified if I started to talk about other women in crisis pregnancies

It’s time for Ireland to grow up and stop pretending that Irish women don’t have abortions. They do. They always have and they always will. 

I was speaking at a panel event in New York recently, discussing feminism and female autonomy. 

I was asked about growing up in a religious country and how that impacted the way in which I saw my own sexuality. 

I was honest, saying that I didn’t identify as a Catholic anymore because I couldn’t remain a member of a church that was so deeply misogynistic and homophobic, and how much I grieved the loss of a faith that had given me a great deal of comfort over the years. 

“I can’t imagine,” the chair said as she turned to the audience, “I mean, Louise is from a country that doesn’t even have legal abortion.”

The crowd, a mix of influential movie industry types, actors, and models, gasped in horror. 

“Come visit!” I joked weakly, “It’s lovely, I promise.”

On the flight home the next day, those incredulous faces fresh in my mind, I wondered what Irish anti-choicers would have thought of that panel. 

Would they have thought that it demonstrated our continuing loyalty to Catholic principles? 

Would they understand that it didn’t make Ireland look like a spiritual land inhabited by the devout, but rather a dystopian, archaic society that hates women? 

There were questions afterwards about where the movie of my first book would be filmed and someone joked “well, not Ireland obviously”, as if somewhere that could refuse access to safe, legal abortion would no doubt be too backward to have electricity or running water.

I attended an all-girls Catholic school and my peers and I would have heated discussions about the ethics of terminating unwanted pregnancies. 

“But what about women who have been raped?” I would argue. “Or victims of incest?” 

Even then, I knew that it was safer to talk about the ‘good’ abortions. 

I knew that I would be vilified if I started to talk about other women in crisis pregnancies, the women who couldn’t afford to have a child, who were mentally and emotionally ill-equipped to raise another human being and simply did not want to be pregnant anymore. 

That was 2002 and we were teenagers.

We didn’t know any better. We had been drip-fed a steady diet of misinformation from the media and the church about abortion. 

Images of babies in buckets, which we would later discover were actually late term pregnancies that had gone horribly wrong. 

The idea of “abortions on demand” was often talked about, and myths of young girls procuring 20 abortions a year rather than going on the pill for fear of gaining weight. 

We were told that every woman who had an abortion was racked with remorse for the rest of their lives. We were told lies. And we believed them. 

But it’s not 2002 anymore and it’s certainly not teenagers whom I see spewing vile abuse on social media. 

Baby-killers. Murderers. Stupid sluts who can’t even figure out how to use contraception properly.

(Not the men, no, we won’t ever blame the men. It’s the women who should be good, it’s the women who should know better. It’s the women who should be literally left holding the baby.)

I think of my friends who have had abortions. 

Tara, who is made up of kindness. Roisín, who is brave and sensitive. Susan, whose optimism and faith in others never ceases to amaze me. A couple of other friends, who have not spoken publicly about their experiences, who are funny and generous and quick-witted. 

These are bone-deep decent women, some of the best people I know in fact. They are not monsters. They are not vessels. They are not criminals. 

They are human beings who made a decision that was best for them, their bodies, their lives.

I feel proud to call these women my friends, because as ridiculous as it might seem in 2016, it is still an act of revolution for a woman to share her story and refuse to be cowed by the anti-choice brigade who want them to hang their heads in shame. 

We care about women, anti-choicers tell us, we simply want to protect women from making a mistake that they will regret. 

I didn’t realise that caring for women meant calling them murderers. I didn’t realise that caring for women meant telling someone who had to terminate her pregnancy because the foetus didn’t develop kidneys that “I disagree with you on those terms (of FFA) from the experience of the people I’ve met”. 

I didn’t realise that ‘protecting’ women really meant controlling them. The people fighting to ensure that the eighth amendment remains in place often complain that they are not treated with due respect, that there is a bias in the media that means their voices are not being heard. 

Well, I am tired of seeing an anti-choice spokesperson being treated as an ‘authority’, their opinion treated as equally relevant as doctors and human rights campaigners and women with actual experience of abortion. 

While they may be entitled to express their opinion, they are not entitled to dictate that everyone else agree with them.

You might read this article and think I’m a daft, leftist liberal. That’s okay. I’m not going to coerce you into living your life in accordance with my beliefs. 

Yet by arguing that we need to uphold the eighth amendment, you are refusing to afford me the same courtesy. You are attempting to enforce your idea of morality upon my life and by doing so you are encroaching upon my basic human right to exercise control over my own body. 

I don’t care if you don’t like the ‘idea’ of abortion, or if it makes you feel squeamish or uncomfortable because, realistically, repealing the eighth amendment will have absolutely no impact on your life. 


It’s time for Ireland to grow up and stop pretending that Irish women don’t have abortions. They do. They always have and they always will. 

I am pro-choice because I trust that those women made the decision that was right for them and I don’t believe that they should be treated with contempt as a result.

Do you?

Even then, I knew that it was safer to talk about the ‘good’ abortions.


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