The powers that be are in the Dark Ages. We want to move into the future

A nurse who wants an easing of Ireland’s draconian anti-abortion laws explains how she found the courage to take on the religious establishment

Related Topics

Growing up in Ireland, I never gave much thought to abortion or the lack thereof. I do, however, have a vivid memory of being a young teenager and coming across an extreme pro-life stand in the centre of Dublin, with horrific pictures of aborted foetuses. I was so enraged that I told the middle-aged man behind the stand how utterly insensitive he was, displaying these images when women may have been walking past who had lost their much-wanted baby from miscarriages or complications. Little did I know that I would go on to experience such a loss.

In the summer of 2009 I was newly married and pregnant with our first baby. My husband, Mike, and I were anticipating the most exciting time of our lives, but it turned out to be the worst. After two bleeds, I booked a private 12-week scan to reassure myself that things were going smoothly. Things were far from smooth.

Our nightmare began when we were told that our much-wanted baby would not survive. She had anencephaly, a condition that meant a large part of her skull and brain did not develop. This condition was labelled “incompatible with life” and, as a paediatric nurse I knew there was no hope.

We asked the consultant what we should do next and he replied: “You either continue with the pregnancy and your baby will die in utero or at birth – or you travel.”

“To travel” is an Irish euphemism for booking a cheap flight to England to obtain an abortion. Continuing with the pregnancy was not an option for us. I couldn’t contemplate another 28 weeks of carrying a baby that I knew had no chance of survival. I couldn’t imagine people watching my bump grow and asking well-meaning questions like, “Have you got your nursery ready?” What was I to reply?

I have never felt so much anger towards my own country as I did the day Mike and I boarded the early morning flight to Birmingham. At the worst time of my life, when my country should have wrapped its arms around me, it turned its back on me. I wanted to be looked after in Ireland, where my family and friends could support us as we grieved, but instead we had to travel to England, like criminals.

I found it incredibly hard to understand why, in a country where a life support machine can be turned off when there’s no prospect of life for the patient, a woman could not get a termination when her own body was acting like a life support machine to keep her baby alive.

It was not until early 2012 that I found the fight in me to campaign against this barbaric law. This came only because, for the first time, I met other women who had experienced termination for a fatal foetal abnormality. We found strength in each other and went public with our stories.

Those stories and our pictures appeared on the front page of The Irish Times. We were not “X”, “A”, “B” or “C”. We were women with names and faces. Finally people could speak out about this previously unspoken topic, and some of the stigma was removed.

We set up the organisation Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) Ireland with one very specific aim. We are campaigning for terminations for fatal foetal abnormalities to be legal in Ireland. Nothing more. We want couples who make the heart-breaking decision to end a much-wanted pregnancy following this devastating diagnosis to be afforded the compassionate care they deserve.

We have a big battle ahead of us. People who live outside Ireland have little idea how the abortion debate plays out here. Politicians are afraid of supporting it, even in situations like ours, in case they lose precious votes. The media are obsessed by it, regularly pitting pro-life people against pro-choice people, which is not constructive. The Catholic Church is vehemently opposed to it, using the power it has over the country and our institutions to impose its views and beliefs on us all.

While the powers that be have not moved out of the Dark Ages, I am hopeful that the general public wants to look to the future. The overwhelming support we received after we spoke out is an indication of that. People realise that the abortion issue is not black and white: there are grey areas, as we experienced, and they must be dealt with.

So I will keep telling my story, keep talking to journalists, keep emailing politicians, keep raising awareness of this awful situation which Irish couples find themselves in every week, until one day change comes.

The government can never change this fatal diagnosis. But it can change the law.

Ruth Bowie campaigns for Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) Ireland

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes