I was sitting in the waiting room of a clinic, and the time passed painfully slowly as I constantly looked at the clock on the wall. Waiting as it seemed to tick-tock slower than I had ever observed a clock ever do so before. I was there accompanying a young woman whom I had been mentoring, who was on the other side of the door, here to have an abortion. As I sat conflicted, I thought about the young woman, how she had been dealt a difficult deck of cards in the game of life, assuming responsibility too young and having missed a lot of her childhood due to her family circumstances. But only a short time ago, her life had been finally seemingly looking up, when she had garnered the courage to leave a highly abusive and physically violent marriage. But in her newfound freedom, she had found herself suddenly pregnant by a new partner.
It was impossible for her to go through with the birth, even if she had the capacity, emotionally, mentally and in practical terms needed to raise a child. Due to the nature of the particular ethnic minority background she had come from, it was inconceivable that she could go ahead and have the baby and also equally inconceivable that she could have an abortion ― because of the strict taboo against both scenarios from her background. She had decided that the latter option was her only path, in this nightmare scenario.
In the days leading up to it, as we endlessly discussed her plans, I listened without judgment, whilst she pleaded with me to accompany her to the clinic, on this most difficult journey of her life to date. At the time, whilst I fully supported her right to choose, I personally felt conflicted, like many who had never before been confronted with this situation, it wasn’t something that I could personally identify with.
All that changed though, as I sat in the waiting room that morning alone with my thoughts, willing the time to pass quicker. You see, the previous evening, I had spent in hospital ― and found myself too, in a completely unfamiliar situation like my friend. I had gone to an event after work as was often the case in London where I was based, intending to stay for a short time-but had instead been targeted by an individual whom I had never met, who was intent on causing me absolute harm and who had unknown to me slipped a date-rape drug into my drink. I was later rescued somewhat miraculously by a stranger, when I was disorientated and barely conscious in the street being forcibly taken away by this man. Upon being taken to hospital, I was told that there were extremely high dosages of date-rape drugs in my system and also, fortuitously that I had been rescued before anything bad had indeed happened. This had happened to me, a sensible, diligent professional young woman, during daylight hours having had only one drink.
As I sat in the waiting room, it all became so clear to me. As the alternative ‘sliding doors’ scenario flashed in my mind, it was clear that if I had not been fortuitously rescued, I would most certainly have been raped, and who knows, it could have been me, on the other side of that clinic door.
You see, the woman who was violently battered by her partner, or raped by a stranger, or who was a frightened teenager, or a struggling single woman or who didn’t have the financial, emotional or practical means to raise a child, could quite literally be any single, one of us. Our friends, our sisters, our colleagues, our mothers. It affects all women, of all classes, backgrounds and ages.
As I look back on those events many years later, I think about how my friend struggled to cope with this decision in the weeks and months afterwards. But, in all of it, the fact that the health system professionals were kind, entirely non-judgmental and sympathetic to her situation at all stages was a huge comfort in an already difficult situation. The fact that she was able to return to the comfort of her own bed a few hours after the procedure to deal with the physical and emotional pain made all the difference. The fact that she didn’t have to have the added stress of financial worries about how she was going to raise the funds needed, since it was free on the NHS, made it all (just about) bearable.
Then I think about women in Ireland, who don’t have any of these most basic of supports and entitlements. I think about the women who have to cry themselves to sleep on a packed airplane on the journey home to Ireland with no privacy because our own Government exports this problem to other countries to deal with its own citizens. I think about the women who have to live with the shame of having committed a so called ‘illegal’ act and how this will impact on their suffering because our politicians don’t have the courage to reform our laws from a bygone era when Irish women were abused, hidden from society and treated as inferior in institutions designed to deal with women in similar predicaments. But, most of all, I think about the women, who because of their financial circumstances living in poverty, don’t have the financial means and are completely denied the right to choose what is best for them in this scenario.
That is why I am marching tomorrow to urge our Government to repeal the 8th amendment to our Constitution, and treat all our citizens as equals- for all of these women, because it really could be any one of us.
Will you join them too?
Details of the global marches are available here.