What would you do if the condom broke? If your pill hadn't worked? If you had been raped? If you were faced with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy? What would you do?
If you lived in England, Scotland or Wales, you could go to your GP or your local sexual health clinic, and get a referral for an abortion. You could do this regardless of your race, class, financial situation, or age. You could make this decision on your own, or with the support of your parents, or friends.
But what if you lived in a country where abortion was illegal? And you couldn't tell your parents? And your boyfriend threatened to paint “murderer” on your house, if you had a boyfriend? And you had no money? And no credit card, passport or photo ID?
Abortion is virtually against the law in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is the case whether you are pregnant as a result of rape, whether the foetus has catastrophic abnormalities, if the woman involved is 14, or if, like most women having abortions, it simply isn't the right time to have a baby. But of course as we all know, making abortion against the law doesn't stop abortion from happening. It just means that, when faced with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, women with money have options and women without money have babies – or do dangerous and desperate things.
This is even more true for young women living in Ireland and Northern Ireland who need abortions. Because of the stigma, many of these young women aren't able to tell friends or family members. And yet somehow they need to raise the £400 to £2000 it can cost to travel and pay privately for an abortion.
Abortion Support Network is a charity that provides financial assistance, accommodation and confidential, practical information to women from Ireland and Northern Ireland forced to travel to access a safe, legal abortion. Since launching in October of 2009, we have heard from almost 1,000 women. More than 250 of those calls have been from women and girls under the age of 25. At least 30 of those were aged 16 or under.
Here’s an example of what these young women have told us:
“I can’t have this baby, I've been trying to get money together and I told the father and he left me. I'm in college and have no money. I depended on my parents and they will disown me if they knew I was pregnant. I'm getting really worried and I don’t know what to do. Anything will help. I know my time is nearly up so I'm beginning to really worry, I know I shouldn't have left it this long but this is my last option and I can’t have this baby.”
“If my parents find out I've had sex, they’ll kill me. I'm not kidding.”A young teenager whose mother called us in desperation. The pregnancy was a result of rape and her daughter was severely self-harming.
“I'm 19 and a student and I'm approximately 18 weeks pregnant. I can’t financially and emotionally support a child so I'm planning on having an abortion. The problem is my partner and I have both been saving and scraping money together but we’re still short. I was enquiring as to whether we could get any assistance, be it monetary or just providing us with somewhere to stay when we get there.”A young teenager with medical complications that could have been compromised by continuing her pregnancy. She and her boyfriend both sold their electronics in order to raise £100.
“I'm a college student and I'm pregnant. I can’t tell a soul and I'm devastated. My parents work so hard to put me through college that I can’t drop out to have a child. Never mind afford to support a child, nor necessarily want one at this stage in my life. Is there any assistance I could have or even an ear?”A young teenager with an abusive ex-boyfriend. He was threatening her, to try and make her continue with the pregnancy. Her family were not in a position to provide support, emotionally or financially, a family friend put herself in debt to help with the costs but was still unable to provide the full cost.
“I'm growing more desperate by the week. I'm 6 weeks pregnant with an unwanted baby that I cannot have for financial and personal reasons. My boyfriend is unwilling to help with the costs of the abortion, as are my parents and his family. I have to cover this entire cost by myself and I am an unemployed student who will probably be homeless before long. Please let me know if there is anything you can do to help.”These young women came from all parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some had support and others didn't. Many had to delay their abortions as they tried to raise the necessary funds, causing even more expense as the price of abortion rises with gestation.
But what did these women have in common?
They were pregnant.
They didn't want to be pregnant.
They were poor.
And not a single one of them thought they would ever be in a position where they would have to call a total stranger in another country to ask for money for an abortion.
Mara Clarke is the founder of Abortion Support Network, an almost entirely volunteer run charity that helps women travelling from Ireland and Northern Ireland to access a safe and legal abortion. To find out how you can help or to sign up for their monthly eNewsletter visit www.abortionsupport.org.uk or follow @AbortionSupport on Twitter.