'I had an abortion': Irish mother-of-two reveals what it’s like to travel to England for a termination

'The decision I made when 18 was why I was able to plan my life, go to college, and then have my kids'


Helen Hoddinott
Sunday 13 May 2018 09:20
“I had an abortion”: Irish mother-of-two who travelled to England for a termination shares her story

When Janet Ní Shuilleabháin fulfilled her childhood dream of flying in an aeroplane, it was to travel to England for an abortion.

An experience she had imagined would be glamorous and exciting was, in reality, spent trying not to throw up due to the chronic morning sickness she had been struggling with for weeks.

Janet, now in her 40s, was 18 years old when she found out she was pregnant.

“I was working at the time and in a stable relationship. I was saving up to go into college, and on to university,” she told The Independent. “And then, our contraception failed.”

Confident she wasn’t ready to have children, Janet and her partner made arrangements to travel to London for a termination, telling friends and family they were going for a romantic weekend as cover.

“I was lucky because I had a passport, and I was able to get a loan from my Credit Union to get the money together to be able to travel,” Janet said.

Thousands of Irish women and girls travel abroad each year to access abortions. An estimated nine make the journey to England and Wales for terminations every day.

A further three stay in Ireland and use abortion pills ordered over the Internet, risking a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The eighth amendment to Ireland’s constitution holds the life of a foetus to be of equal value to the life of its mother, meaning abortion is almost completely illegal, except when the mother’s life is seriously at risk.

Because of these standards, only twenty-five abortions were recorded in Irish hospitals in 2016.

Repeal the Eighth: Ireland's abortion referendum explained

“In Ireland, if a cow is pregnant with a calf and the cow gets sick, the cow can have an abortion,” Janet said. “We treat cattle here better than we treat women currently.”

Arriving at the clinic in London on the day of her abortion, Janet was heckled by pro-life campaigners who were waiting outside.

The protestors had figured out which days Irish women were most likely to have appointments and targeted them as they arrived.

While Janet was at her most vulnerable, they shouted at her in Gaelic: “God loves you and your baby.”

Ealing council has become the first in the UK to ban protests outside a local abortion clinic

"Once I got inside the doors... there were nine other women from Ireland who had travelled over, and it was just so quiet," Janet said.

She remembers the compassion of the staff, who checked at every stage that she was comfortable.

The procedure was carried out under local anaesthetic, and after a night in the clinic she returned to the B&B to spend one more night resting.

The next day, still dealing with the physical effects of the procedure, Janet boarded her flight home to Dublin, where she would go back to the bedroom she shared with her little sister.

Janet wears badges to encourage others to talk to her about being pro-choice

“I remember leaving the B&B the next day and my heart feeling so much lighter. It was done, I’d managed it,” she said. “Despite all the obstacles… I wasn’t pregnant any more and I could continue with my life.”

Travelling for an abortion can place women under a great deal of financial pressure. It took Janet a year of monthly instalments to the Credit Union to pay off the debts incurred by her termination.

Now, the price for an abortion can total up to £1,365, before factoring in the cost of travel and accommodation.

When Janet, now an active pro-choice campaigner, went on to have her two children, a son and a daughter now in their teens, they were planned pregnancies.

“Second time round I was… completely thrilled,” Janet said. “I still had horrendous morning sickness with my son and then with my daughter, but it was something that I chose.”

She credits the decision to have an abortion as a teenager as the reason she has the family she has today.

“When my son was born and I got to hold him for the first time, I was just absolutely overjoyed. It absolutely made me even more pro-choice.”

On 25 May, Ireland will vote on whether to repeal the eighth amendment. A “Yes” vote would allow for the government to legislate on terminations.

If Ireland votes "No", the eighth amendment will remain in place.

You can follow all the developments in the debate, as well as the latest polls, on The Independent’s live blog.

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