This is a guest post by Hannah. Hannah is a writer and activist in sunny London town. She blogs about gender, disability, and whatever else is sticking in her teeth, over at give the feminist a cigarette.
Being a UK lady-blogger and reading predominantly US blogs, when reading about abortion in the States, you succumb to a feeling of intense relief and – it has to be admitted – insufferable smugness.
“Oh, you wacky Americans, with your testifying foetuses and ‘forcible rape’ clauses! Your Hyde Amendment and your clinic bomb attacks! Thank heavens,” we sigh, “that we live in such an reproductive-rights-loving climate where religion does not dictate what happens in our baby-makers. Sure, it’s not exactly an abortion-on-demand paradise round here, what with two doctors having to agree that continuing your pregnancy will send you mad, bad or sad before they’ll sign you off for the prodedure. Sure, we have oddball MP Nadine Dorries, who’s apparently trying to use her entire political career to reduce the abortion time limit and bring in abstinence-only sex ed, but she’s in a tiny minority, and abortion’s still legal in the UK, so what’s the problem? Everything’s fine, right?”
Well, yes, everything’s dandy – if you’re from mainland Britain. But in many parts of the UK, things are very different. The law is much more restrictive in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, where abortion provision is limited or even non-existent. In Northern Ireland, terminating a pregnancy is illegal in almost every circumstance (including where the pregnancy results from rape, or will cause serious illness). Women in Northern Ireland pay the same taxes as I do, the NHS operates in the same way there as it does here – and yet they are not entitled to this key aspect of health care.
Similarly, abortion remains illegal in the Republic of Ireland, except in notoriously fuzzily-defined circumstances: one of the plaintiffs in the recent ABC Case was suffering from a rare form of cancer which would have proved fatal had she continued the pregnancy – yet she was unable to find a single doctor who was willing to sanction an abortion.
They can, of course, nip across the water and have the procedure here. Which is super! If they can come up with the cash for flights, accommodation, and the abortion itself, at a moment’s notice! Which isn’t a big deal, right? I mean, who among us couldn’t lay their hands on anywhere up to £2,000 just like that? It wouldn’t be that traumatic to travel hundreds of miles from home – probably alone, because who could you tell? – to undergo a medical procedure in a strange city where you don’t know anyone. Right?
Which is where I start to plug. Denizens of Feministe, I give you: the Abortion Support Network.
We are a tiny grassroots charity offering grants, accommodation, and support to women who are forced to travel from Ireland and Northern Ireland to access a safe abortion. We’re entirely volunteer-run, our budget is miniscule, and we’ve nearly run out of money once this year already – so if you have a spare pound/dollar/euro rattling around, feel free to throw it our way! Check out the events page for future get-togethers! And there are tons of ways you can help out, wherever you are – just give us a shout.
It never ceases to amaze me how little awareness there is in the UK about Irish/NI abortion law. So please, pass it on – tell your friends, retweet our pearls of wisdom, bring up the subject over Sunday lunch with the in-laws (“Hey there, Right-Wing Uncle Alan! Let’s talk fallopian tubes.”) – every little helps.
Thousands of women make this journey every year – at least 1,123 from NI in 2009, and 4,422 from the Republic. But it’s not the numbers that break my heart. It’s the individual stories. The mother of two who had recently migrated from Eastern Europe, who couldn’t speak English and was already struggling to make ends meet. The woman who couldn’t read, so had to ask a stranger to help her read our website. The woman with mental health problems who was suffering domestic violence.
“I cannot begin to describe how scared and alone and difficult it was for me, I can only imagine most women feel the same. Nobody wants to have to make a decision like this and for most they will never have to. I will forever feel grateful for the help and support I received. Thank you all so much.”
~ 37 year old mother of 3