Monday 19 February 2018

Tanya Sweeney: I have never had an abortion - out of luck

Tanya Sweeney
Tanya Sweeney

Tanya Sweeney

I tend to stay away from Twitter; it's a highly flammable, volatile cesspit packed with trolls and naysayers. Which is why I was very surprised to find myself embroiled in a scuffle last week.

Renowned feminist Lindy West kickstarted the hashtag #shoutyourabortion, hoping to end the stigma around women's experiences of terminating pregnancies. Others then came online to reveal their experiences; a great development in the ongoing discussion about abortion. This has been a faceless issue for way too long. And in a way, I'm starting to see why.

West tweeted (and I retweeted) that her abortion was carried out in 2010: "The career I've built since then fulfils me and makes me better able to care for kids I have now."

A man I don't know then tweeted us both. "My heart is breaking 4 your choices," he wrote. "You killed your baby because it was an inconvenience to your career? Your career has an expiry date, perhaps already nearing its end. I'm sorry you never had the chance to meet your daughter. She loved you from the moment she heard your voice."

And later: "Some1 needs2vocalise on behalf of the babies killed (sic)."

Clearly, our friend doesn't realise that the anti-choicers have dominated the discussion for long enough.

The 'babies' have been amply represented in this ongoing discourse by people who vilify, emotionally torture and impose themselves on the women making these decisions. Hearing the stories straight from women who have gone through this first-hand (including in Ireland, writer Roisin Ingle and comedian/actress Tara Flynn) is a true game-changer.

At last week's March for Change - a protest to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution - there was a palpable change in energy in the air. As the last pre-election march, there was a vibe of resoluteness, positivity, and tentative hope for change. The 12-women-a-day travelling to the UK for the procedure were faceless no more. This, in itself, is a big change.

Almost a decade ago, I was working at a woman's magazine and wanted to write a piece about women's first-hand experiences of abortion. I'd had friends who'd made that awful trip to a UK clinic, alone and cloaked in shame. I wanted women like them to know that they weren't alone, and that normal women were at the centre of this.

I felt that women should know what to expect, how sore it would be, how one might feel (the truth is there is no right or wrong way to feel about it). I was sent off to find young women who might talk openly about their experience. Suffice to say, I couldn't find anyone to go on record for the piece. No one was going to stand up and be counted. But that was then and this is now.

I've never had an abortion, out of sheer luck more than anything. In my late-20s, however, I did go to my male doctor to procure the morning-after pill. The doctor asked me, in a low voice, 'Did I know the boy?' As it happened, I was in a long-term relationship at the time. He gave me the pill, but only after quizzing me at length about the sexual encounter. "Get thee to a nunnery!" he said jokingly, ushering me out the door.

The thing is, attempting to 'scare' grown women into taking better care of themselves does not work. We are there in the doctor's office because we are taking control of our reproductive destinies.

Friends of mine, as I've mentioned, have had abortions for a number of reasons. Despite what the likes of my pal on Twitter thinks, this is not a decision that women take lightly. Doubly so in Ireland, where the issue wears an even heavier cloak. Some may not regret their decision to terminate a pregnancy in the long-run, while some do. All of my friends, without exception, have never looked back after the procedure and have gone on to have families. But those flights are often booked with a heavy heart. Those women are sad for their shamed younger selves.


People of all ages, shapes, and provenances have unprotected sex. That is an undeniable truth, and I'm not revealing anything incendiary, or letting a genie out of a bottle, by saying as much. Some people end up pregnant after it, and some don't. Yet in Ireland, we appear to hold in higher esteem those who stoically shoulder an unplanned pregnancy. Those who make a decision not to bring a child they didn't want into the world are vilified. Actually, they're not… they're swept under the carpet, their voices revoked, their experiences ignored. Making one faction feel like saints and the others feel like sluts… well, it has to stop now. Motherhood is one of the hardest, draining and most torturous jobs there is. But the massive commitment isn't for every woman. Don't judge or shame someone who feels that they don't want the job at that particular point in time.

This isn't about letting people 'kill innocent babies'. This isn't about legalising abortion to the point that women will be so cavalier and throwaway about it that they'll be slipping one in before their mani/pedis and after their latte breaks.

It's about letting those who want the job of motherhood take the gig with both hands, and those who don't to opt out. But we're finally jumping in the water. And the tides are changing.


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