This post is part of our week-long series on the personal impact of the current state of reproductive health, rights, and justice.
by Mara Clarke
Clarke is the founder and director of Abortion Support Network, a volunteer-run charity that provides financial assistance, accommodation in volunteer homes, and confidential, non judgemental information to women forced to travel from Ireland and Northern Ireland to access a safe, legal abortion. Please sign up for the monthly eBulletin, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. ASN is run entirely by unpaid volunteers and all donations directly help a woman with her abortion or travel costs.
Having turned 40 this past November, I am as old as Roe v Wade. However, I have to say Roe v Wade has never been a major factor in my life. I grew up in Illinois, with a Republican father and a mother who died when I was too young to know to ask of her politics (though she went to University of Chicago in the early 1960’s and loved Joyce Carol Oates and Anne Sexton so I like to think I have an inkling). I left home in 1990 and, while I voted for Bill Clinton in my first election and would have described myself as pro choice, it wasn’t until reading this article in the Village Voice in July 2002 that I became aware of the reality of abortion access for many, many women in the United States.
“Wait, what?” I asked myself as I read about women forced to travel hundreds of miles after working extra shifts and selling things to raise funds for their abortions, having been pushed into later and more expensive gestations while they raised the money to pay the costs. Women were travelling. Hundreds of miles. To have an abortion. Which until that moment, I thought was something both legal and accessible in the United States.
The “right to choose” is meaningless if you can’t access an abortion. There is no “choice” if your insurance doesn’t cover abortion. If you don’t have insurance. If your closest provider is 200 miles away. If you can’t take three days off work to travel to a clinic, sit through a mandatory waiting period, pay for the procedure, and travel back.
So before I ever started arguing about abortion, I stopped. I refuse to engage in any discussion around abortion that involves “morality” or right v. wrong. Until abortion is readily and freely available to all, abortion isn’t an issue of right or wrong. It’s an issue of money.
And even if we did want to talk about morality, whose morality will we use? Many people who contact Abortion Support Network were themselves against abortion – until. “I was completely against abortion – until. I was pro life – until.” Until my sister fell pregnant. Until my daughter was raped. Until my wife fell ill. I was completely against abortion – until I needed an abortion. I do not call these women and men hypocrites. I simply ask people who are against abortion to remember that there but for the grace of God – and an unwanted pregnancy – go us all.
[Editor's Note: more people than just cis women need and want access to affordable reproductive health care, including abortion.]
[Editor's Note: Clarke also provided us with more information about the Abortion Support Network, which Clarke founded and is now director of in Ireland. We'd like to include that, too, since ASN does such important work and donations are critical for their funding.]
It is virtually impossible to get an abortion in Ireland, where the government is still dragging its feet on releasing the guidance on what constitutes a risk to the mother’s life TWENTY YEARS after the X Case. And in Northern Ireland, where, despite being part of the United Kingdom, where women pay the same taxes as we do, they are denied an NHS abortion, even if they travel to England to get one.
Many women cannot afford the £400 to £2,000 it costs to travel to England for a safe and legal abortion. Abortion Support Network launched in October of 2009 to help them. We help them because women with money have options, and women without money have babies. The only criteria we have is financial need, and if we have money in the bank. We don’t ask women how they got pregnant as there are not “good” abortions and “bad” abortions. Many of the women who call us believe that having an abortion is killing a baby and that they will burn in hell. They are still having an abortion.
The opposition talks about post abortion stress disorder – I’d like to talk about PRE abortion stress disorder, when a woman or a woman and her partner make the decision that they are not able to parent a child – or in the majority of cases – another child – and then see how much it’s going to cost. Plus the added complications of knowing which clinic in England is closest to what airport, having a passport or in some cases a visa, finding childcare, hiding the pregnancy lest you lose your job.
Women with money can easily book a plane ticket and pay for a private procedure. But the women who call ASN don’t have savings accounts. These are women and couples who have lost their jobs, and sold their cars, and eaten beans on toast for three weeks to raise 100 euro. We’ve heard from more than 700 women in just over 3 years. These are women and couples who were forced by the abortion law in their country to take what should be a private and personal decision and to pick up the phone, call a complete stranger in another country, and beg for money.
These have been women as old as 46 and girls as young as 14, and many of them already have children.
These have been women in abusive relationships, women living in homeless shelters, women addicted to drugs, women with serious mental health issues, women pregnant as result of rape and women with serious medical conditions that pregnancy would complicate. These were couples struggling to get by already, people made redundant, people literally living week to week. These were couples who had been told that their wanted babies had catastrophic foetal anomalies. And what did all these callers 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 the situation of having to involve a total stranger in what should be a private decision made by a woman equipped with unbiased medical information and, where appropriate, with her partner and with her god.
For more information on abortion in Ireland, check out Unlike Youth Defense, I trust women to decide their lives for themselves and Alliance for Choice Belfast.
A version of this piece originally appeared on the 40 Days for Choice Tumblr.
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