Hundreds of Irish women are left traumatised, depressed and suicidal after they have an abortion, it has been claimed.
A support group for those suffering from the after-effects of terminating a pregnancy said others are also silenced by shame and terrified of sharing their secret. Bernadette Goulding, of Women Hurt, said she and others like her have been invisible in the debate on abortion.
"I had an abortion and I have been deeply damaged by it and I meet hundreds of women now who come to my abortion recovery programme," she said. "I suffered from many years of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal attempts, suicidal thoughts. When I work with women in recovery I meet many women who were suicidal. I've visited them in psychiatric hospitals around the country."
Lynn Coles, from Belfast, had an abortion in 1980 at the age of 18 and struggled until she got help 13 years later. "We want to get the message out there is hope and healing after abortion," said the Women Hurt co-founder. "It does anger me that women in the media would claim to be pro-choice. I'm pro-choice but I'm for women having proper choice and fully informed choice. Why would they want to silence our voices?"
The women, and Adele Best, spoke as they went to share their stories with cross-party politicians in Leinster House who will have to vote on legislation to allow abortion for suicidal women. They said they would have been prepared to lie and say they were suicidal to get an abortion.
They warned their service is already overstretched and they claimed they expect numbers to rise if the proposed legislation is enacted. The Government has said it wants to bring it into law by the summer.
Women Hurt was established two years ago for women who regret having an abortion.
Ms Best, 38, from Belfast, revealed she had one abortion at the age of 25 so she could focus on her career and a second at 30 - but only dealt with the after-effects two years ago after a recovery programme. "Nobody warned me I would grieve for that loss and I was very shocked afterwards to feel that something was missing and I was very shocked to feel depressed and suicidal," she said about her first termination.
"After my second abortion it escalated and I was suicidal and it was only by chance I found out abortion recovery existed. I think women deserve to hear the truth about abortion. I don't feel they are hearing the full story about what the after-effects are. I wasn't suicidal before my abortion, but I was afterwards."
Ms Goulding, from Cork, revealed she has met hundreds of deeply traumatised Irish women - and thousands worldwide - in need of recovery and who have tried to kill themselves in recent years. "We women who've had abortions find many ways of punishing ourselves after the event," she added.