Saturday 24 March 2018

Why are we still afraid to talk out about this?

Eimear Rabbitte hears how a teenager was struck with infection after a lonely flight to Britain for an abortion

Eimear Rabbitte
Eimear Rabbitte
DILEMMA: When contraception and the morning-after pill both failed Danielle, she and her boyfriend left Dublin to get help in the UK. Photo: Tony Gavin

AS moments of truth go in the course of a life time, speaking publicly about an issue that is still treated with disdain in certain sectors of society is certainly up there.

An estimated 5,000 women travel abroad each year to access safe and legal abortion services. Within Ireland, abortion is still an issue that very much divides public opinion and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For some, however, it is not simply a controversial debate, but a reality that they no longer want brushed under the carpet.

One young woman who travelled to the UK in her late teens to undergo an abortion has broken her silence on why she felt let down by the State for the necessity to seek a termination in a foreign country.

And why she will no longer accept the aura of shame and secrecy associated with the subject.

Dublin woman Danielle opens up to RTE presenter Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh about her termination experience in the latest offering of The Moment of Truth, airing tonight.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Independent, Danielle, who prefers not to use her full name, explains that there is one main motivating factor behind her decision to go public with her story.

"The reason I am doing this is for my kids," she says simply. "In 10 or 15 years' time, if one of my kids comes to me and says, 'I am in this situation Mam, can you help?' I am going to be able to help and I hope that they can look for the medical attention they need in their own country.

"Even if the law hasn't changed by then, my hope is that they are not going to be shamed and worried about the stigma."

An important issue that Danielle feels needs to be tackled regarding abortion among Irish women today is not that it happens but that it happens and people are still afraid to talk about it.

"There are Irish abortions every day, they just don't happen here," she told the Sunday Independent. "We need to remove the stigma so people can get on with their lives and realise that it's not something that needs to be hidden."

Now a mother of two, working full-time, the 28-year-old described her daughters, aged three and five, as "absolutely the most important thing in my world".

"They are my little princesses and I wouldn't be able to live without them."

Danielle is confident in her decision that she would not lead the life she does now if she went through with the pregnancy.

"I don't regret my decision, just the circumstance I was in," she adds.

After meeting her then boyfriend at a concert in her late teens, Danielle, who grew up in south Dublin in the 1990s, instantly fell in love and they began a relationship.

Some time later the couple became accidentally pregnant after discovering both the contraception and morning-after pill they had availed of had not worked.

Fully supported by her boyfriend, Danielle decided that the right option for her was to undergo a termination and the couple travelled to the UK in secret.

Stating that she does not agree with "later-term abortions", Danielle said that she did not regard the 12-week-old foetus as a "viable baby on the outside" and thus made a decision that she felt was right for her.

Describing her initial feeling as "utter terror", Danielle knew that the time wasn't right for her to have a baby.

"I was sensible, but emotionally I was very immature. I knew that for the rest of my life there would be a 'what-if', but I knew myself I couldn't have looked after a baby at that time."

As a scared young woman, Danielle felt let down by the Irish State because she was forced to travel to a foreign country to have an abortion.

"I think the travelling is the most horrific part of the process because you feel like an exile, you really do," she says.

While at the airport awaiting her flight back to Dublin, Danielle went into labour and was rushed to hospital where she was told she had contracted an infection.

"I don't blame anybody, but that's another reason why I feel we should be able to do it at home. I remember just thinking, 'Why couldn't I have done this at home?' I could have rang my friends and said this is after going wrong."

Because of the attitude associated with abortion at the time, Danielle declined to tell anybody apart from her closest friends and family about her termination.

While the debate on the issue has become more open-minded in recent times, Danielle explains that she still feels a cloud of shame emanating from some areas of society.

"I was at a pro-life rally in Dublin and I was spat on by elderly women walking by me and screaming that I was a murderer because I was there in silent protest.

"There were children being shaken at us, it was absolutely horrific. Just because we were saying that we would like to have choices over our own bodies."

Danielle says she would love to take on an advocacy role in the event of abortion being legalised in Ireland in the future.

While she is a fervent supporter of the pro-choice movement, she is keen to reiterate that her beliefs are not driven by any form of religious or political leanings.

"I'm not a big activist, I go to protests, I sign petitions and I'm very opinionated on this issue, but I'm not linked to any political group what-soever.

"At the end of the day it doesn't matter what government is in; unless people remove the stigma attached to abortion, not enough girls are going to be confident enough to talk about.

"We should be allowed to hold our heads high."

After her relationship with her then partner came to a "natural end" three years after the termination, Danielle entered another long-term relationship and suffered a miscarriage before going on to have two beautiful daughters.

"I am a full-time working, single mother with an amazing life and I'm an upstanding member of society so this hasn't damaged me," she said confidently.

The young mother is proud of the woman she has become.

"I am strong and it has taken me 28 years to look in the mirror and say to myself, 'I absolutely have no issue with you looking back at me'.

"I love the person that I am, some people don't find that ever," she adds with a wry smile.

The Moment of Truth, tonight, 10.35pm, RTE One

Irish Independent

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