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'Using the phrase 'social abortions' to try to publicly shame us is not okay'

Two women shared their abortion stories for the first time today and asked not to be shamed for their decisions.

I had never been to London before and I remember wandering aimlessly around trying to pass time before I could go to my B&B. It was just so lonely. I remember trying to find a working public phone to ring my mum. Then when I came back, the pretence in work about your great weekend in London.

TODAY IS THE first time Eimear Farrell has shared her abortion experience. There are people who have known her for years who she says will only learn about her termination when they see it on the news today.

“I never thought I’d be here telling everyone my story, but women like us are being forgotten in all the debates, women who know that we were not capable of being mothers at that particular time,” she told reporters at a press conference in Dublin this afternoon.

“And coining the phrase ‘social abortions’ in an attempt to portray us as having made a frivolous decision and to publicly shame us is not okay. It’s a private matter, it’s a private decision.”

Farrell was 21 when she became pregnant. She had just started her first full-time job in a bank and was still living at home.

“I knew immediately I didn’t want to be pregnant, nor was I capable of being a mother at that particular time. After considering all my options, I knew abortion was the right option for me,” she said.

“It was not a decision I made lightly and, you can imagine at 21, I didn’t have a lot of money. I had only started working so I had to wait until I was paid to be able to book my flights and book the clinic.

“We’re your colleagues, we’re your friends, and secrecy and shame stops everyone from talking about it, but when people talk about these women, you’re talking about us,” she added.

I have a 19-year-old daughter and I want her to know if she is ever in crisis that she can come to me and I will not judge her and I will support any decision she makes and I want to know she will be supported by the health services here and not exiled like me.

Eimear Farrell and Sinead Carolan shared their experiences of travelling to the UK for abortions. Both said they were young at the time and were not ready to be mothers. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

Sitting beside Eimear Farrell today was Sinéad Carolan, who also shared her story. She had an abortion at 16 years of age.

“I don’t think the circumstances of how I became pregnant are relevant, but when I realised I was pregnant I was probably about eight weeks at that point – and yes it did take that long to realise I was pregnant.

“I went into a state of shock and panic, I didn’t know what to do but what I did know was that I couldn’t mentally, emotionally, physically and financially remain pregnant or be a mother to a child. I knew that straight away. I sought support from the man I was pregnant by and, well, he didn’t want to support me.

In a state of despair I thought I’d be better off dead so I tried to commit suicide. It didn’t work thankfully. And then I approached my parents. Now, I know I should have gone to them first, but being young and naive I was trying to resolve the issue and I didn’t want to disappoint them.

The now 41-year-old said her parents told her they would support her no matter what she decided to do.

“I travelled to London – it wasn’t that easy either, the money had to be found and back then in 1993 it was about £1.5k and I guess there wasn’t that money just lying around easily.”

After her termination, she said she felt “a huge sense of relief” but the secrecy made her feel ashamed and stigmatised.

I’m married now. I have two children. I’ve no regrets about my abortion and about the choice I made… I think pregnant people do not have abortions for no reason – there is always a reason for that. And it’s something you never want to do and it’s something you never want to repeat again, but life is complicated.

“It feels hard that in 2018 we women have to come out and tell our stories and put a face to a story. I wish we didn’t have to and I hope we don’t have to like any of the other people again,” she said.

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith, who held the press conference in Dublin at which the women spoke, said that as someone who has herself had an abortion and shared her experience, dealing with public reaction can be difficult.

She told TheJournal.ie that she has felt patronised by pro-life commentators, including during the recent Claire Byrne Live debate.

“It’s very hard to resist responding to that and I’m sorry I didn’t sort of let it go but it’s very hard because it’s offensive, it’s deeply offensive to be patronised in that way,” she said.

She also described one incident in which she was confronted by a group of women after a pro-life march in Dublin city centre.

“They started shouting at me that I was a murderer and ‘when we win the referendum, we’ll have you arrested for murder.

I don’t doubt that there’s an element of Irish society who if they won the referendum to say vote no would be buoyed up in their confidence in how they treat women.

“There are the tens of thousands of ordinary women who don’t have the absolute hard cases but whose lives matter. The message we want to get out today is that women’s lives matter and that choice matters,” Smith said.

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