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This is what it's like to have to travel abroad for an abortion

Nearly 4,000 women with Irish addresses had abortions in the UK last year. Three Irish women who sought terminations abroad share their stories with TheJournal.ie.

shutterstock_198190574 Source: Shutterstock/LoloStock

NIAMH, 39, WAS 14 weeks into her pregnancy when she found out her baby had a fatal foetal abnormality and would die in her womb before the end of the final trimester.

“I remember just sitting in my car in the Phoenix Park after I found out, roaring crying,” she tells TheJournal.ie.

I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just give up work, and go back home to mam and dad.’ I’m married and I live with my husband, but I really thought I’d just be able to hide out until it was all over – because no-one knew I was pregnant.

Faced with a long waiting list at UK abortion clinics, Niamh travelled instead to Austria, where her husband is from, two weeks after the diagnosis.

Her parents had wanted to go with them, but flights were too expensive at the time.

They flew in for the burial instead.

She told only a few others – two friends, two bosses and immediate family members – about the termination.

The most difficult part, Niamh says, was returning to Ireland without her longed-for baby.

The worst thing for me is that I’ve no grave to go to here – I’ve no physical place to remember her.

Frustration

Katie, 24, had just ended a relationship when she found out she was pregnant.

It was about a month after she turned 21 and her former partner, who was 11 years older than her, was “too immature” to have a child.

He booked the appointment and travelled over to Manchester with her, Katie tells TheJournal.ie.

She remembers having to make excuses at work before she left, knowing there was still a stigma about what she intended to do.

But the rhetoric of those who would criticise her decision is more frustrating than upsetting, she says.

I almost pity them for not seeing why it’s important for women to have these options. It feels like my needs aren’t being met because of a few people shouting louder than me. It’s like having a teacher telling you what to do.

Alone

Claire, 25, found out she was expecting nine weeks into her pregnancy.

A single mother, she felt it was not the right time to have a baby and flew to the UK with a friend.

She had never left Ireland before, she tells TheJournal.ie.

The journey would have been too expensive had she not received funding from the Abortion Support Network, a volunteer-run British charity.

The clinic, however, told her to come back in a fortnight because her iron levels were too low.

By the time Claire returned to the UK, 20 weeks into her pregnancy, the price of the procedure had nearly doubled.

She was alone this time.

It was really scary. You’re leaving home and having to be secretive because you feel it’s frowned upon, all while trying to manage the kids and get your head around what you’re actually doing.

Other than the friend who joined her on the first trip, she had no-one to speak to about what had happened.

I even got the bus back from the airport by myself.

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Common journey

Official UK figures show that 3,735 women travelled from Ireland to England or Wales for abortions in 2014.

And many others have made that journey before them.

According to an Amnesty International report published last month, some 177,000 women with Irish addresses have had terminations in the UK since 1971.

Mara Clarke, the director of the Abortion Support Network, tells TheJournal.ie that her organisation provided financial assistance to 342 woman travelling from Ireland to the UK last year.

The charity also helps migrant women living in Ireland obtain the visa they need to travel, she says.

Restrictions

For other women, without access to that kind of support, there is no option but to stay in Ireland.

Nicola, 38, had spent nearly all of her savings when her baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.

Travelling to the UK with her husband – between flights, accommodation and the procedure – would have cost upwards of €2,500, she tells TheJournal.ie.

If it had been available in Ireland, I would’ve had the termination the day after I got the news. It would’ve been hard, but I could have at least started grieving then.

The baby survived in her womb for five weeks after the diagnosis and was removed only once a doctor was able to confirm he had passed away.

For over a month, Nicola says, she struggled to carry on with everyday life, knowing there was a sick baby curled up inside her.

Most people get a scan to check their babies are well. I was getting scanned once a week to see if he had died. That’s just not humane.

Some names have been changed. 

Read: A lot of you don’t know abortion carries a 14-year jail sentence > 

Read: Fine Gael can’t get away from the abortion issue >

About the author:

Catherine Healy

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