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I Was Raised In A Country Without Legal Abortion — Trust Me, You Don't Want To Experience It

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Savita Halappaanavar, abortion protest in Ireland

I was 15 years old when I first learned about the true impacts of Ireland’s strict abortion laws.

It was 2012 and the 20th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court case that should have altered Ireland’s legislation around abortion but didn’t.

I remember my mother solemnly explaining the case to me as a documentary aired on TV.

In 1992, a 14-year-old girl informed her parents that she was suicidal due to being pregnant as a result of rape. A family friend in his 40s had been sexually abusing her for two years.

The parents took their daughter to the United Kingdom — where, for decades, Irish women had been forced to travel to access abortions — but informed the Irish police because they wanted to press charges against their daughter’s rapist and believed they might need evidence of the abortion for their case.

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The day the family traveled, the Attorney General obtained an injunction preventing them from leaving the country. 

They returned home and thus began a Supreme Court case that eventually ended with a ruling which allowed a threat to the life of a pregnant person to be grounds for abortion. It took over two more decades for legislation on the matter to be introduced.

The girl never accessed an abortion and she suffered a miscarriage shortly after the trial. Her rapist was imprisoned in 2002 for the rape of another teenager.

Between the ages of 15 and 19, before Ireland eventually voted to legalize abortion beyond its previous restrictions, the nation’s oppressive reproductive laws became increasingly obvious to me.

Ireland’s anti-choice laws seemed to seep into the lives of friends and loved ones in the worst possible ways.

When I was 18, a friend told me she was pregnant. She’d been trying to find a way to break up with her controlling boyfriend for months. Now she could be tied to him for life.

The last time I had seen her, he was dragging her by the arm into a taxi because a man who she had spoken to for a matter of seconds offered to buy her a drink at the bar we were in.

As a woman in Ireland, jokingly telling your friends that you’d be on the next boat to England if you found out you were unexpectedly pregnant was common.

Suddenly, the isolating journey that thousands of Irish women were making every year didn’t seem so funny. 

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She didn’t know how far along she was, her period had been irregular for years, but she suspected she may already be 11 weeks in.

Her parents were devout Catholics, her boyfriend would never let her end her pregnancy, and making a trip to England was costly and not discreet. 

For days we scrambled for options. Eventually, her cousin in Northern Ireland told her she could order abortion pills online and drive them to her.

On a Thursday evening, while other friends headed out to bars, I held her hand and she writhed in pain on her bathroom floor after taking two pills —mifepristone and misoprostol — possibly after it was already too late to do so.

I can still hear her sobs as I frantically Googled how much blood was too much and whether we could be arrested if we went to a hospital. 

A year later, while on a trip home from my study-abroad year in France, I met a friend for a drink and listened to her gush to me about a boy from her hometown who she was dating. She was also doing a semester in Europe so they were doing long-distance for now.

Two months later she called me to say she’d had an abortion. She had no idea how it happened, they’d always practiced safe sex.

When she talked to the guy she was dating he casually told her he had been, without her consent, removing his condom most nights they slept together.

She never spoke of him again.

“Thank God I wasn’t in Ireland,” she said at the end of the call.

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The next week, after we’d discussed abortion laws in a class about women’s rights across Europe, my French classmates told me they were sorry that was I raised in Ireland.

“That must be awful,” one said with sympathetic eyes. 

I felt every ounce of homesickness leave me in an instant. 

In May 2018, I returned from France to an Ireland one week away from a referendum on the right to have an abortion. Pro and anti-choice posters lined every signpost.

I met my typically-conservative grandfather for coffee and braced myself for an afternoon of biting my tongue. We’d never talked about abortion before but I presumed his stance.

From where we sat we could see a mural that had been erected to commemorate Savita Halappanavar.

In 2012, doctors told Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant and in severe pain, that complications in her pregnancy meant miscarriage was inevitable. When her water broke and the fetus was not expelled, she was denied an abortion that could have saved her life.

She died of sepsis days after miscarrying.

“Something has to change,” my grandad said as we watched people line up to lay flowers at the mural, “It’s nonsensical that it has taken this long.”

For a moment, I was surprised but it dawned on me that my grandfather came from a time before affordable travel to the UK, before abortion pills. He came from a time of coat-hanger and back-alley abortions, a time when cases like Halappanavar’s were painfully common.

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Now that experts here in the U.S. are already estimating that maternal mortality rates will drastically increase, women in our lives will die as a direct result of the end of Roe

And families across the U.S. will grieve the way Halappanavar’s husband and parents did.

A week after this conversation with my grandfather, I voted for the first time in my life and watched the decision to allow abortion legislation pass in a landslide.

There was no celebration or rejoicing — abortion remained, as it always had been, a devastating topic. But, with a constitutional right clearly laid out, accessing an abortion suddenly seemed slightly less lonely.

A year later, a friend told me his girlfriend was pregnant due to a couple of missed birth control pills during a hectic winter exam season. 

They were both in their final year of college and had plans for life post-graduation that didn’t include becoming young parents. The decision was difficult but clear.

This time there was no flight to England or pills to sneak over a border. There was a clinic 10 minutes from campus, a doctor’s note to give to our professors, and a safe, legal framework that women had fought and died for.

“How are you feeling,” I asked when I saw him that day, late to class after driving his girlfriend home from her appointment.

“Relieved,” he replied. 

Silently, I thanked everyone who had fought to repeal Ireland’s abortion laws and I told myself I would never again live in a country that didn’t allow people to make this choice. 

What has always struck me about Ireland’s laws before 2018 is that they never stopped anyone I knew from getting an abortion. They just made that process isolating and dangerous.

The restrictions didn't save a life, but they ruined many. 

The Supreme Court decision echoes similarly restrictive abortion laws across the globe that have been pushing women into back alleys and on long journeys to far-away clinics for centuries.

It is a ruling that has been proven to fail yet it is being deemed a cause of celebration.

In the U.S, there will be a suicidal 14-year-old forced to continue a pregnancy after being sexually abused, there will be a teenager pressured to stay in an abusive relationship with the father of her child, there will be a someone who carries their pregnancy to term after their partner rapes them, a woman who longed to be a mother will die because she won’t be able to terminate her dangerous pregnancy. Many others will have their future plans ruined by a child they never wanted. 

And many more people will end their pregnancies in unsafe and traumatizing situations due to being unable to access an abortion close to home. 

I have seen what this looks like and, trust me, you don’t want to.

Local abortion funds across the US are helping to fund procedures, abortion pills, transportation and lodging when travel is required, childcare, doulas, emotional support, and more. Find your local abortion fund at AbortionFunds.org.

Or consider donating to help independent clinics keep their doors open as they face increased expenses for security, building repairs, legal fees, and community education and advocacy. Donate to clinics via KeepOurClinics.org.

RELATED: 8 Vital Resources To Use If You Need An Abortion Or Want To Help Out Someone Who Does

Alice Kelly is YourTango’s Deputy News and Entertainment Editor. Based in Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her Twitter for more.

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