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Alliance for Choice

40 Women per month - a Protest to Extend Abortion Act to Northern Ireland    

Saturday 18th October 2008. Women from Alliance for Choice held a symbolic protest in the centre of Derry to represent the 40 women who travel from Northern Ireland every week for abortions in Britain.

Alliance for Choice is an organisation that campaigns for the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. It is made up of women and men, from both Catholic and Protestant communities in the North of Ireland, who want to see equality and self-determination for women here. Alliance for Choice was set up in 1996, emerging from the Women’s Right to Choose Group, to encourage the incoming Labour government to implement Labour Party policy to extend the Act.

Much of our work has been about making heard the voices of the tens of thousands of women from NI who have had abortions in England and elsewhere since 1967 – thereby exposing the hypocrisy of the politicians who say there is “no demand for abortion rights” in NI.

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Women’s Voices

Ms. M:

“I suffer from congenital heart disease. After the birth of my third child, I was told by the cardiologist not to risk any further pregnancies as ’it would take 15 years off your life’. I subsequently became pregnant and, because of my religious qualms about abortion, did not request a termination but carried the pregnancy to term. I was unwell for several months following that confinement and never really recovered my full strength.

When I became pregnant again three years later, I feared for my life and asked about a termination. The obstetric consultant at Altnagelvin Hospital told me that my life was not in immediate danger and so an abortion would not be legal. Nonetheless, when I made an appointment in a British clinic, my doctors here consulted with the medical staff at the clinic and sent them my notes because my health was so poor.”

Campaign to Extend Abortion Act to NI    

”Not the Church not the State women must decide their fate”.

(Photograph © Jess Hurd 2008)

Ms. C:

“When I was aged 25 and my daughter Caroline was almost eight, I went for a pregnancy test at the LIFE offices. My distress at the positive test was so great, the counsellor took some time to calm me down. I explained that Caroline has severe autism and challenging behaviour. As a lone parent, I was just about managing to keep her in the community. Another child would mean that Caroline would end up in care and I wasn’t having that.

The counsellor said that maybe God was sending me this child ’to make up for Caroline’. This insult to my darling daughter summed up the ’pro-life’ attitude for me. Getting respite care for a few days to allow me to go to England was very difficult, although the all my friends rallied round with money, so that part wasn’t too bad.

Five years on, Caroline is still at home with me and her behaviour is greatly improved. If I had continued that pregnancy, I have no doubt that she would be in care and much, much worse in her behaviour and abilities.”

Ms. A:

“It was 1993 and my youngest child was 8 years old when I found myself pregnant again. My marriage had broken up a few years before and my husband had left me to raise our five children alone with no support, financial or emotional. I had returned to education as a mature student and I was in the final year of my degree.

All the struggling to keep up with home and University was about to pay off. I was just months away from my final exams. When I told the man I was seeing that I was pregnant, he just didn’t want to know. He had children of his own from a previous relationship and wouldn’t be around to help, no matter what I decided to do.

Even though I was raised a Catholic and I didn’t agree with abortion, when I was faced with these circumstances, I felt I had no other choice. It took five weeks from when I decided to have a termination to raise the money to travel over. I borrowed money from friends, lying to some and trusting others with my secret. I had to use the phone-bill money as well, so we got cut off just before I left for London. N. Ireland is part of the UK, so I don’t understand why I couldn’t have the abortion here.”

Ms. G.

“I really felt so close to insanity when I discovered I was pregnant. It should have been an ideal time - my son was just two years old, the perfect time to conceive a sibling. But Michael has severe brain damage and the prognosis was that he would never walk, talk, see, hear, get out of nappies. I was already traumatised by that knowledge and the idea of having another baby - with the danger that the same thing might happen again - it just terrified me in a way that I can’t describe. I can say that I understood for the first time how women can risk their lives using knitting needles or coat hangers to cause an abortion, because I felt desperate enough to do that.

I had nightmares that somehow I would be stopped before I got to England and forced to continue the pregnancy. I was unable to function for the five weeks I had to wait until I was far enough along to have a termination. Although I needed him with me, my partner couldn’t accompany me although he wanted to because someone had to look after our son; if I had been able to have the termination in our local hospital, it would have been far easier for the whole family.”

Ms. R:

“My son was five years old, I was getting my life back, had started a training course that would have allowed me to work in a job that I could fit around my son’s school. I have always been super-careful about contraception – ever since I had my son. I don’t know what went wrong but I realised immediately the symptoms of pregnancy. I thought I would go mad. I couldn’t stop crying. I just spent my days crying.

I knew immediately that I wanted to go to England and end the pregnancy but I also knew there was no way I could get the money together; I find it hard to make ends meet on Income Support, have nothing left over and I already had a Social Fund loan, so that was out. I told my parents and they did their best to get some money for me but they live on benefits themselves since my father had an accident at work. I managed to get a few hundred together but it was nowhere near enough. Eventually, a friend phoned everyone she knew and begged the rest of the money for me. People I didn’t know, none of them very well off themselves, gave money to a complete stranger in need. I can never thank them enough.

I have finished my course now, have a job and am off benefits. I feel I am a good role model to my son and I have never regretted not going ahead with a pregnancy that would have ruined both our lives.”

© Alliance for Choice 2012