BY KRISTYNA MURPHY
DUBLIN—While abortion causes heated debate among Americans, in Ireland the subject is so sensitive and controversial that it’s nearly unspoken. Speaking to someone who has had an abortion—or is considering one—is difficult. “It’s also something you don’t want anyone else to know. You don’t really talk about it,” said Meghan Doherty, the policy and advocacy officer of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA). “It’s definitely different from America.”
Irish women experience many fears and anxieties because of the stigma attached to abortion. “It’s always considered to be something that happens to everybody else, but it would never happen to my daughter or it wouldn’t happen to me,” Doherty said.
Faced with an unexpected pregnancy, many women turn to charitable organizations like IFPA or voluntary groups like Cura, which provide full access to high-quality information about sex, contraception and safe abortions. “We give them respect and listen to their difficulties,” said Charlotte Keary, a Cura spokeswoman. “We aren’t there to judge them or tell them what to do.”
Women in Ireland dealing with unplanned pregnancies have three options: Keep the baby, have an adoption or travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion.
While Cura can’t facilitate an abortion or provide women with a phone number for an abortion clinic in the UK, it supports a woman’s right to self-determination, Keary said. Likewise, IFPA can’t give information about abortion unless requested by a woman.
Most women who visit these support organizations choose to have an abortion, Doherty said. More than 6,000 women travel to Britain every year to have an abortion, but only about 50 women per year choose adoption.
Abortion was a criminal offense in Ireland until 1992, when a 14-year-old girl was raped and traveled to the United Kingdom for an abortion. After the Irish government ordered her to return to Ireland, two referendums were passed giving pregnant women the right to travel.
Now a woman can have an abortion in Ireland only if she is diagnosed as suicidal. But even so, very few, if any, doctors will perform such a controversial procedure. According to Doherty, doctors don’t have the skills or background to perform abortions.
Traveling to Britain to have an abortion costs between 600 and 2000 euros. Post-abortion counseling is even more expensive. Many Irish women traveling to have an abortion don’t tell their families. “I know someone who had an abortion, and she had to pretend to be going away on a weekend holiday, as I’m sure most women who do so also have to,” said Francesca Pawelczyk, a former Dublin resident, via Facebook.
But some women can’t afford the operation. For immigrants or the poor, an abortion is even more of an impossibility. According to IFPA, a woman’s youth, wealth, education and immigration status are all factors that can prevent her from traveling to the UK.
Some women turn to illegal back-door abortions in Ireland. According to the Garda, or Irish police, illegal abortion has increased. Some women use pills available illegally online, while others resort to coat hangers.
Rogue crisis pregnancy agencies try to prevent women from having abortions, Doherty said. These agencies appear to be a place where women can get information about abortions, but in reality they talk women out of seeking an abortion.
“Women think they’re going to be treated kindly and with respect, and then they go there and they show them pictures of a fetus or keep bringing them back for certain periods so they can’t get an abortion,” Doherty said.
Abortions in Great Britain are legal if the woman is between five and 24 weeks pregnant.
Some people believe abortion should be made legal in Ireland, especially in cases like rape. “I’m pro-choice,” said Ciaran Murray, a student at Dublin City University. “I think it’s a sign of desperation to have to go abroad to get it done. I think most people who aren’t strictly Catholic hold that view.”
Organizations like IFPA want abortion to be a less divisive issue. “We try to change the debate about abortion so it isn’t a polarizing issue,” Doherty said. IFPA does this by offering unbiased, professional advice and a non-judgmental service.
But while abortion remains an open discussion in the United States, the door is still closed in Ireland to the idea of legalizing abortion.
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