The Secret Abortion Trail

Irish women don’t have the right to Choice. meets the charity helping them on their journey to the UK

There will always be pro-lifers. There will always be pro-choicers. There will also always be women seeking abortion.

According to new research from the Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organisation, ‘restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion’. Instead, they make safe abortions more difficult to obtain. As the Irish abortion debate rages on, Abortion Support Network (ASN) helps hundreds of Irish women making the journey to England to terminate their unwanted pregnancies – but can’t afford to.

Every year, nearly 7,000 women from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland cross the Irish Sea to have an abortion in a British clinic. Mara Clarke, the founder and Director of ASN, asks, “Why in 2012, in the western world, does ASN need to exist? Why are women still forced into this circumstance where they have to throw themselves upon the mercy of strangers to access a medical procedure?”

Under the 1861 ‘Offences Against The Person Act’, abortion is illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This includes cases of rape and foetal abnormality. The unborn has an explicit right to life from conception. Women who want to terminate their unplanned or unwanted pregnancies must make a silent journey to England, often alone.

Mara is matter-of-fact about the situation: “It is absolutely a class-based decision. Women with money have options, women without money don’t”. An Irish or Northern Irish woman is a private patient in the UK, where abortion is legal until 24 weeks, 5 days. Prices start at around £330, rise exponentially after 14 weeks, and past 19 weeks rise to £1595. However, this only covers the procedure, not travel (which is often last-minute air fare), accommodation, childcare costs or a passport.

ASN was founded in 2009 to provide accommodation, financial assistance and confidential, non-judgmental information to the women forced to travel to England to access a safe, legal abortion. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) describe a ‘culture of silence and confusion’ in Ireland; accessing basic services for any counselling or medical advice can be an isolating, daunting prospect.

Often, the women ASN hear from will not have been able to tell anyone. The stigma attached to abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland is strong; screaming pro-life campaigners picket family planning clinics and rogue crisis pregnancy agencies misinform and bully pregnant women. In 1992, The ‘Offences Against the Person Act’ gained amendments to provide a ‘right to travel’ and ‘right to information’. However, twenty years on women are still unsure of how to exercise these.

“It is absolutely a class-based decision. Women with money have options, women without money don’t.”

“We have women call us because they just don’t know the law, they don’t know their options” explains Katie, one of ASN’s phone volunteers. ASN are contactable by phone, e-mail or text. However they clarify that they are ‘not doctors or counsellors’. The majority of cases they deal with are concerning women who have made their decision, saved up what money they can but are racing against time and struggling. Inevitably, the recession has been a further blow. “I’ve heard the word ‘redundant’ a thousand times over the last six months”, Katie continues, “everybody is saying “I was laid off”; “my husband was laid off”; “we don’t have any money coming into the family”; “I don’t have any savings”, “I can’t afford my mortgage any more.””

Mara describes women ‘in desperate situations’, explaining “when you make abortion against the law, all you do is make it even harder for poor women, or more often women with children, or disenfranchised women, or very young girls”. She adds: “We don’t feel like we always have to talk about the raped 15 year old, although we’ve had several”.

ASN carefully consider every case on an individual basis, but Mara highlights a commonality: “They [the women] are more or less frantic 92% per cent of the time, because they don’t have the money. I can’t tell you the amount of families who say ‘if we don’t pay our rent this month, we can pay for the flights, can you help with the procedure? We once heard from this girl who was £20 short. Can you imagine £20 making the difference between you and the rest of your life?”

First, by law, women must receive a consultation to have an abortion. These can be accessed for free in Ireland, Northern Ireland or for a small fee in England. However, Susie, one of the trustees, notes that clinics can be ‘very compassionate’ for Irish women. After this, women must consider which clinic to go to. Then, they must start to plan a complicated journey and, foremost, how to explain their disappearance to people. Katie is keen to point out that, for many women, it is an unfathomable ordeal.

“Because we’re dealing with women below the poverty line or who are seriously struggling financially, some of them have never left Ireland.” Obtaining a passport in time is a frequent problem. Furthermore, there are different clinics in different cities for different stages of gestation on different days. ASN advises women organising their travel and has 21 volunteer hosts in the UK who provide accommodation for women who need to stay overnight, necessary for post-19 weeks procedures. However, it is not uncommon for women to want to complete everything in a single day.

Mara recalls a case which she promises is not atypical: “we just heard from a girl who flew from Ireland to Liverpool and took a train to Birmingham, then the next morning took a 5am train to go to Manchester so she could fly out. We hear women who are five hours from the airport but want to come in and out in a day. They have to take the first flight in and the last flight out. So they sleep in the airport the night before.’

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service warns: ‘It is best not to travel within 24 hours of treatment’. The side effects of abortion can include sickness, heavy bleeding and abdominal cramps. Nevertheless, the psychological distress of telling other people, compounded with the financial impossibility of missing a day of work, or inability to cover childcare, leaves women with restricted options.

“Amongst women from Northern Ireland, a higher percentage are less likely to have been able to tell anybody about their decision to terminate, with the possible exception of their partners, if they have partners”, details Mara. Another issue of disclosure comes from victims of domestic violence, who often fear that they would be physically prevented from leaving the country and forced to keep the pregnancy.

Psychologically, Mara believes the inability to talk about it, sometimes lying to friends, families and work, leaves women ‘so alone, with a level of shame’. Sometimes, ASN are the first people the women will talk to. Katie describes ‘women who may have kept it bottled up and immediately start crying’ on the phone.

However, not all the women come to ASN alone. Not all the pregnancies are unwanted. Mara recounts how some of the most harrowing cases they help are with couples who are planning a family: “Some of the most heart-breaking people we hear from are couples with wanted pregnancies, who don’t find out until after week 20 that there are catastrophic anomalies: babies with no brains, babies with no internal organs.”

This presents an impossible situation: “Imagine you find out that your wanted pregnancy is going to result in a baby that is going to die within days of being born. You have a matter of weeks, first to decide whether you want to continue with the pregnancy or not, and secondly to come up with about £3000.” These procedures must take place in a hospital setting, and are at top-end prices. And this still leaves last-minute plane tickets and overnight accommodation to pay for.

This is the grim reality of such restrictive legislation. However, the ASN team are relentlessly compassionate. Mara, Katie and Susie all believe in practical welfare. ASN is a support service and facilitator of women’s needs. It is not a campaigning organisation; groups such as Choice Ireland, Alliance For Choice and Abortion Rights are already fighting for more liberal abortion law.

Mara emphasises her belief that ‘this is a decision that should be made by a woman, with unbiased medical information and where appropriate, with her partner and her god.’ When asked how she describes her pro-choice politics to her five-year-old daughter, she merrily replies, “women who are mummies should want to be mummies”. She glows with admiration at the ‘incredible resourcefulness’ of the women ASN hears from, who do everything in their power to gather the necessary money.

ASN is the only charity in the UK to financially support Irish women seeking abortion in England. Last year they heard from 250 women. Consisting of 36 dynamic volunteers, Susie describes the organisation as ‘very grassroots’ and ‘non-bureaucratic’. However, it’s working: the number of calls they receive has already tripled since last year. The phone advisors are given the autonomy to grant women up to £200 without permission and sometimes, women are sorted within 15 minutes of calling. The method is simple, Mara says, “Here’s a woman. She needs our help. We’ll help her”.

“None of us are paid”, affirms Susie, “we can guarantee every penny goes to the women”. ASN is funded by individual donors. Their only expense is their phone bill, which is covered by a donor with an unrestricted standing order. Volunteers fit ASN around other jobs. Despite this, they all claim that their job satisfaction is immense. Mara proudly declares, “ASN is what happens when a group of people decide that they want to make a difference in people’s lives”. Although they run on a ‘hand-to-mouth’ basis and are ‘almost always running out of money’, they have never turned a woman down to date. Their sole aim for the future is to ‘survive and keep helping women’.

In January 2010, The Irish Examiner conducted a survey, concluding that 60% of 18-35 year olds were in favour of legal abortion. With the ‘A, B and C v Ireland’ case in 2010, which saw three Irish women who had travelled to England to access abortions challenge the Irish Government’s ban on abortion in the European Court of Human Rights, and with Ireland’s recent introduction of the morning-after pill over the counter in February 2011, a change in legislation could be on the horizon. Yet it is not guaranteed. ASN have received criticism that they are a ‘plaster’ for a governmental problem: helping these women so the government doesn’t have to. Katie calmly sweeps this criticism aside: “I challenge anyone to spend five minutes on the phone to these women and not want to help them”.

6 comments

  1. The reason abortion is not legal in Ireland is that the majority of people resident there do not want it to be.

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  2. SEE COMMENTS IN BRACKETS

    There will always be pro-lifers. There will always be pro-choicers. There will also always be women seeking abortion (and babies who die).
    According to new research from the Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organisation, ‘restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion’. Instead, they make safe abortions more difficult to obtain. As the Irish abortion debate rages on, Abortion Support Network (ASN) helps hundreds of Irish women making the journey to England to terminate their unwanted pregnancies – but can’t afford to. (Although those who promote child killing blame so-called ‘pro-lifers’ it was actually the Irish people who voted to save the lives of the unborn on three occasions, many now believe that they should not have been given that democratic choice)
    Every year, nearly 7,000 women from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland cross the Irish Sea to have an abortion in a British clinic. Mara Clarke, the founder and Director of ASN, asks, “Why in 2012, in the western world, does ASN need to exist? Why are women still forced into this circumstance where they have to throw themselves upon the mercy of strangers to access a medical procedure?” (there was a noticeable increase in the number of those traveling to have their child killed after the sudden influx of foreign nationals arrived in the country which was added to by the states promotion of unsafe sex devices which have also led to an internationally high level of venereal disease in the country, especially as there is no way to get any of these viruses out of a person’s body once he or she has become infected.)
    Under the 1861 ‘Offences Against The Person Act’, abortion is illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This includes cases of rape and foetal abnormality. The unborn has an explicit right to life from conception. Women who want to terminate their unplanned or unwanted pregnancies must make a silent journey to England, often alone. (except for the child of course)
    Mara is matter-of-fact about the situation: “It is absolutely a class-based decision. Women with money have options, women without money don’t”. An Irish or Northern Irish woman is a private patient in the UK, where abortion is legal until 24 weeks, 5 days. Prices start at around £330, rise exponentially after 14 weeks, and past 19 weeks rise to £1595. However, this only covers the procedure, not travel (which is often last-minute air fare), accommodation, childcare costs or a passport. (The baby is not allowed to grow to seek employment to pay which could pay for the mother’s trouble but it has been said that a lot of them would pay all necessary damages if they were given a chance)
    ASN was founded in 2009 to provide accommodation, financial assistance and confidential, non-judgmental information to the women forced to travel to England to access a safe (Safe? This is the only medical procedure where at least half of the patients die), legal abortion. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) describe a ‘culture of silence and confusion’ in Ireland; accessing basic services for any counselling or medical advice can be an isolating, daunting prospect. ( Many babies have been known to have looked extremely ‘isolated’ when lying in the bucket with their afterbirth tissue for company)
    Often, the women ASN hear from will not have been able to tell anyone. The stigma attached to abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland is strong; screaming pro-life campaigners picket family planning clinics and rogue crisis pregnancy agencies misinform and bully pregnant women. In 1992, The ‘Offences Against the Person Act’ gained amendments to provide a ‘right to travel’ and ‘right to information’. However, twenty years on women are still unsure of how to exercise these. (It is notable that when the referendum wording was put to the electorate in Ireland that there was no restriction on whether the ‘right to information’ was to be confined to pro-death or pro-life and just because of that those pro-lifers seem to be flouting their giving of information, many of the deceased babies would love to know why).
    “It is absolutely a class-based decision. Women with money have options, women without money don’t.” ( but death is a great leveler, many of the decision makers find themselves facing early meetings with their offspring in the afterlife through promiscuity related illnesses such as cervical cancer and the like).
    “We have women call us because they just don’t know the law, they don’t know their options” explains Katie, one of ASN’s phone volunteers. ASN are contactable by phone, e-mail or text. However they clarify that they are ‘not doctors or counsellors’. The majority of cases they deal with are concerning women who have made their decision, saved up what money they can but are racing against time and struggling. Inevitably, the recession has been a further blow. “I’ve heard the word ‘redundant’ a thousand times over the last six months”, Katie continues, “everybody is saying “I was laid off”; “my husband was laid off”; “we don’t have any money coming into the family”; “I don’t have any savings”, “I can’t afford my mortgage any more.””
    Mara describes women ‘in desperate situations’, explaining “when you make abortion against the law, all you do is make it even harder for poor women, or more often women with children, or disenfranchised women, or very young girls”. She adds: “We don’t feel like we always have to talk about the raped 15 year old, although we’ve had several”. (‘Several’ – meaning 2, 3, 4? Against 7000 per year (where did that figure come from?) who were not raped but still cling to that feeble excuse to terminate an unborn child’s right to live).
    ASN carefully consider every case on an individual basis, but Mara highlights a commonality: “They [the women] are more or less frantic 92% per cent of the time, because they don’t have the money. I can’t tell you the amount of families who say ‘if we don’t pay our rent this month, we can pay for the flights, can you help with the procedure? We once heard from this girl who was £20 short. Can you imagine £20 making the difference between you and the rest of your life?” (if push came to shove a young child could learn to dance or sing or even hug people enough to get the £20 for the mother before they were 2 years old if they would only let them live long enough).
    First, by law, women must receive a consultation to have an abortion. These can be accessed for free in Ireland, Northern Ireland or for a small fee in England. However, Susie, one of the trustees, notes that clinics can be ‘very compassionate’ for Irish women. After this, women must consider which clinic to go to. Then, they must start to plan a complicated journey and, foremost, how to explain their disappearance to people. Katie is keen to point out that, for many women, it is an unfathomable ordeal. (These damned ‘consultations’ are what was required by the anti-lifers to confirm that the child had to die, now they want that to go!)
    “Because we’re dealing with women below the poverty line or who are seriously struggling financially, some of them have never left Ireland.” Obtaining a passport in time is a frequent problem. Furthermore, there are different clinics in different cities for different stages of gestation on different days. ASN advises women organising their travel and has 21 volunteer hosts in the UK who provide accommodation for women who need to stay overnight, necessary for post-19 weeks procedures. However, it is not uncommon for women to want to complete everything in a single day. (in that day alone a newborn baby would breath about 70,000 times and would experience all of the senses hearing, touching sight, smell and taste – maybe even of the mother’s milk, that it would use for the rest of its life, if it was allowed of course).

    Mara recalls a case which she promises is not atypical: “we just heard from a girl who flew from Ireland to Liverpool and took a train to Birmingham, then the next morning took a 5am train to go to Manchester so she could fly out. We hear women who are five hours from the airport but want to come in and out in a day. They have to take the first flight in and the last flight out. So they sleep in the airport the night before.’

    The British Pregnancy Advisory Service warns: ‘It is best not to travel within 24 hours of treatment’ (*TREARTMENT???). The side effects of abortion can include sickness, heavy bleeding and abdominal cramps, (as well as the baby experiencing deep gashes in its spinal cord, cramped sensation from jamming in abortion bucket and of course – Death). Nevertheless, the psychological distress of telling other people, compounded with the financial impossibility of missing a day of work, or inability to cover childcare (CHILDCARE???), leaves women with restricted options. (tell that to the baby)
    “Amongst women from Northern Ireland, a higher percentage are less likely to have been able to tell anybody about their decision to terminate, with the possible exception of their partners, if they have partners”, details Mara. Another issue of disclosure comes from victims of domestic violence, who often fear that they would be physically prevented from leaving the country and forced to keep the pregnancy. (When weighted against a baby being torn from its mother’s womb and forced to die in the most horrific of circumstances then any equivalent domestic violence would have to include the mother being roasted alive to compare)
    Psychologically, Mara believes the inability to talk about it, sometimes lying to friends, families and work, leaves women ‘so alone, with a level of shame’. Sometimes, ASN are the first people the women will talk to. Katie describes ‘women who may have kept it bottled up and immediately start crying’ on the phone. (Betcha the baby would have liked to be able to talk to someone!)
    However, not all the women come to ASN alone. Not all the pregnancies are unwanted. Mara recounts how some of the most harrowing cases they help are with couples who are planning a family: “Some of the most heart-breaking people we hear from are couples with wanted pregnancies, who don’t find out until after week 20 that there are catastrophic anomalies: babies with no brains, babies with no internal organs.” (Ireland is factually the safest place in the entire globe for dealing with all forms of trouble for both the mother and child during and after gestation. Irish law absolutely permits the termination of an unborn child’s life when there is no hope of life or a danger to the mother – to say any less would be a sham and a lie).

    This presents an impossible situation: “Imagine you find out that your wanted pregnancy is going to result in a baby that is going to die within days of being born. You have a matter of weeks, first to decide whether you want to continue with the pregnancy or not, and secondly to come up with about £3000.” These procedures must take place in a hospital setting, and are at top-end prices. And this still leaves last-minute plane tickets and overnight accommodation to pay for. (Read previous comment)
    This is the grim reality of such restrictive legislation. However, the ASN team are relentlessly compassionate. Mara, Katie and Susie all believe in practical welfare. ASN is a support service and facilitator of women’s needs. It is not a campaigning organisation; groups such as Choice Ireland, Alliance For Choice and Abortion Rights are already fighting for more liberal abortion law. (Compassionate! Is this a joke? There is no compassionate reason to kill an innocent human being. The mother is only in the position to consider any such choice because someone made sure she made it through her gestation period.)
    Mara emphasises her belief that ‘this is a decision that should be made by a woman, with unbiased medical information (including pro-life? – not according to the previous paragraph) and where appropriate, with her partner and her god.’ When asked how she describes her pro-choice politics to her five-year-old daughter, she merrily replies, “women who are mummies should want to be mummies”. (and babies who are forcibly removed from their Mummies tummies and killed die without learning what a good mummy might be want to live!) She glows with admiration at the ‘incredible resourcefulness’ of the women ASN hears from, who do everything in their power to gather the necessary money.
    ASN is the only charity in the UK to financially support Irish women seeking abortion in England. Last year they heard from 250 women. Consisting of 36 dynamic volunteers, Susie describes the organisation as ‘very grassroots’ and ‘non-bureaucratic’. However, it’s working: the number of calls they receive has already tripled since last year. The phone advisors are given the autonomy to grant women up to £200 without permission and sometimes, women are sorted within 15 minutes of calling. The method is simple, Mara says, “Here’s a woman. She needs our help. We’ll help her”. (and one day her baby might thank you for letting it live)

    “None of us are paid”, affirms Susie, “we can guarantee every penny goes to the women”. ASN is funded by individual donors. Their only expense is their phone bill, which is covered by a donor with an unrestricted standing order. Volunteers fit ASN around other jobs. Despite this, they all claim that their job satisfaction is immense. Mara proudly declares, “ASN is what happens when a group of people decide that they want to make a difference in people’s lives”. Although they run on a ‘hand-to-mouth’ basis and are ‘almost always running out of money’, they have never turned a woman down to date. Their sole aim for the future is to ‘survive and keep helping women’. (ARE YOU SERIOUS! Check out the monies collected by the pro-baby death groups all over the world and you will quickly see that baby killing is a massive industry that relies on mother and child victims to support their life styles. Check out the incomes of the top Irish anti-life groups. Their executive positions are financially one of the most lucrative in the country even during these hardtimes.)
    In January 2010, The Irish Examiner conducted a survey, concluding that 60% of 18-35 year olds were in favour of legal abortion. With the ‘A, B and C v Ireland’ case in 2010, which saw three Irish women who had travelled to England to access abortions challenge the Irish Government’s ban on abortion in the European Court of Human Rights, and with Ireland’s recent introduction of the morning-after pill over the counter in February 2011, a change in legislation could be on the horizon. Yet it is not guaranteed. ASN have received criticism that they are a ‘plaster’ for a governmental problem: helping these women so the government doesn’t have to. Katie calmly sweeps this criticism aside: “I challenge anyone to spend five minutes on the phone to these women and not want to help them”.

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  3. 16 Mar ’12 at 11:48 pm

    Candice Heyward-Spence

    The poster above me ha done little but reiterate just how pathetic and abusive Pro Lifer’s are to women. Whom by right of being there first should have full choice of what goes in and out of their bodies how ever they choose, and that the options for such things should be safe, legal and either free or made with some sort of arrangements so woman living below the poverty line can seek help.

    All Pro Lifer’s skate around the Rape cases, the Incest cases, the Child Brides, the Abused, the Force and Traffiked Sex Workers, those made to be Sex Workers because of Drug addictions…

    Only a dozen or so cases out of the hundreds are women whom may have been simply careless or having an affair.

    Do I really need to go on and on like the poster above me about how wrong Pro-Lifer’s are?

    Hence their most deserving title as Anti Choice and heres to getting rid of them – either by slowly converting one Pro Life bastard at a time or simply fighting all the harder to keep the freedoms our foremathers began fighting for.

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  4. seriously Harry Rea??

    (Ireland is factually the safest place in the entire globe for dealing with all forms of trouble for both the mother and child during and after gestation. Irish law absolutely permits the termination of an unborn child’s life when there is no hope of life or a danger to the mother – to say any less would be a sham and a lie).

    i dont know weather you are being sarcastic or you just dont know irish law.. if you are being sarcastic i dont get it.. if you actually think that is the truth go look it up…

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  5. Harry Rea’s comments were great. Thank you Harry for speaking up for the voiceless unborn victims of abortion.

    It is horrifying that there are people who spend their free time and money assisting women to kill their babies rather than assisting them to let the baby be born and live. Pregnancy isn’t always easy or welcome, but killing the innocent unborn child should NOT be an option.

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  6. nobody except me gets to say what happens to my body.

    and it’s possible the pro-lifers would be able to make a positive impact by offering people more options (although this would involve respecting women’s choices, which just isn’t going to happen), people who don’t have enough money to fly to another country, don’t have enough money to raise another child.

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