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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 25 April, 2019
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'My only thought was if this plane crashes everyone is going to know that I’m pregnant'

The Citizens’ Assembly today heard first-hand experiences from women.

THE CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY was left in stunned silence today by the testimony of six women who spoke about their experiences of pregnancy and the Eighth Amendment.

The women came at the issue from a number of points of view and it was the first time the 99 person assembly heard from women directly affected by the issue.

The interviews were conducted by Mary Ryan of Maynooth University who introduced each testimony.

Although they remained anonymous, the women agreed that the final version was an accurate account of their personal story.

Here is what they said.

Woman one

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

The first story was from a woman who was from ”absolutely clear from the start” that she wanted an abortion.

The woman said that she became pregnant after having sex with a family friend at a wedding a number of years ago.

“Consenting adults, we used protection but it obviously didn’t work,” she said.

The woman said that she travelled to London to have an abortion but that the journey there was “awful”.

“I just didn’t want to be pregnant at all,” she said.

“My only thought was if this plane crashes everyone is going to know that I’m pregnant.”

Woman two

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

The second story was from a woman who became pregnant after the first time she had sex in 1970.

She said she contemplated suicide due to her lack of options but that she agreed to a ‘charade’  of a marriage to the man with whom she became pregnant. She went ahead with pregnancy and proceeded with marriage.

“The relationship between us was never good, he started suffering with depression. I ended up looking for a separation,” she told the assembly.

The woman said she spent 11 years looking for annulment but is glad the option to have an abortion was not available to her.

“I would hate to think where my life would have gone if I’d had an abortion,” she said

“If you give life a chance it brings amazing joys.”

Woman three

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

The third story happened about 15 years ago to a woman who had a child at 18 and then had a second child 14 months later.

While caring for two young children, she was the victim of a serious sexual assault by a stranger.

Due to complications from changing contraception, the woman became pregnant for a third time while still dealing with daily panic attacks from assault.

“I had two babies who’d already suffered from having watched their mother almost have a nervous breakdown. So finding out I was pregnant again was terrifying, terrifying. Because I didn’t think I was mentally capable of looking after another child. And financially we were already struggling,” she said.

The woman said her and her partner decided an abortion was the best option but that they were forced to get a loan from a loan shark to pay for the trip to the UK

She also said she felt shame in what she was doing and that she feels it is wrong that Irish women are made to feel such shame.

“I don’t think women should be made to constantly feel that shame… Why should we be be threatened with 14 years in jail?”

Woman four

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

The fourth story happened in the past number of years.

At a 12 week pregnancy scan, the woman was told her baby would almost certainly not live until 16 weeks of pregnancy.

The pregnancy continued but doctors told confirmed to her that her baby had a major disorder and would not survive.

“At 24 weeks I remember thinking how can I still be pregnant with my baby that is going to pass away,” she said.

I was walking into the hospital and seeing all these people with their babies in car seats and realising I was never going to be leaving the hospital with my baby in a car seat.

“I had this dying baby inside me but it felt like I was dying as well. It felt like we weren’t getting the treatment we needed,” she added.

The woman said that she felt like Irish doctors were unable to give her the best advice.

Upon travelling to Liverpool she was told that the most humane option would be to have a termination.

We decided to go and then everybody in LIverpool was being so kind and compassionate to us. And seeing the care that they were giving us that we could be giving our women and we’re choosing not to. Not all pregnancies are going to have a happy ending.  Women will need to end their pregnancies.

The woman said “another layer of grief” was added because they couldn’t have a service for the baby back in Ireland until a month later.

Woman five

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

In the fifth personal story, the woman described being told after a 22-week scan that there was “something really not right” with her baby.

It transpired that the boy had anencephaly and though it was likely he would be born alive, it would be would be a certainty that he would die shortly afterwards.

She said the option of a termination was raised with her.

“That would involve an injection into his heart through my stomach to stop his heart. Then inducing labour and I would have to deliver him dead for certain,” she said.

The woman explained why she decided to continue with the pregnancy:

It started to dawn on me that I had no choice, that I’m losing this child but I have a choice about having his life in between.

The woman said that the baby was born but died shortly afterwards.

“When he was finally born and was in our arms he was so beautiful and so vulnerable… When he died he just slipped away so quietly.”

The woman said she takes issue with the use of the term “incompatible with life.”

Woman six

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

The final story concerned the case of a woman who had been hospitalised with meningococcal septicemia.

A number of months later she became pregnant when a condom broke and she she had what she describes as a crisis pregnancy at age 20.

The woman was unable to get a morning-after-pill from a clinic who told her she wouldn’t be able to get one unless she got a referral from the Rape Crisis Centre.

During a conversation with another counsellor looking for other options, she was warned that terminations were illegal and that she faced jail if it was discovered.

The woman’s parents also told her she would only get their support if she continued with the pregnancy and didn’t travel to England.

She ultimately decided to keep her baby and, although her son is much-loved, she is resentful that she was forced to do so.

“What I do not like about this whole thing is that the decision about being pregnant and living with the consequences of that was forced upon me,” she said.

The Citizens’ Assembly continues tomorrow.

Follow @ronanduffy_ for updates throughout the weekend.  

Read: ‘When the blood flows from abortion, Satan has his day’ – Citizens’ Assembly letters go online >

Read: Citizens’ Assembly told repealing the Eighth doesn’t necessarily mean a right to abortion >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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