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Finally we can be open about Irish abortions

IT's not specifically aimed at women living in the 26 counties, but it will undoubtedly be availed of by many of them.

The new Marie Stopes private abortion clinic opening next week in Northern Ireland will change the mental maps of women all over Ireland who find themselves with a crisis pregnancy.

For the first time, one type of abortion -- medical abortion -- will be available on the island of Ireland.

When it comes to abortion, Irish women have always had mental maps of where it could be found. In our grandparents' time, the middle of the last century, for example, girls who were "in trouble" could find the addresses of Dublin clinic specialising in terminations.



Clampdown

We may, today, have the illusion that abortion was never available in Ireland, but, back then, it was pretty openly on offer from several addresses in the capital.

The clinics even advertised in the evening papers, promising an end to what they euphemistically dubbed "female troubles." For those who couldn't read or didn't get the message, other women were the source of guidance.

"Go to the building on Merrion Square with the silver pillars," girls would tell each other.

Then came the clampdown. Abortionists like Mamie Cadden were put of business. That changed the mental map, which now had to include a sea journey, later a flight, to get to one of the British cities where a never-ending stream of Irish women had -- and continue to have -- their pregnancies terminated every year.

The mental maps never included Northern Ireland, even though women in the South assumed the abortion situation "up there" was the same as on the UK mainland. It was not.

Women in the North had the same theoretical entitlements as other UK citizens, but in reality, they, too, had to get out of Ireland in order to get an abortion.

That changes as of next week, when women from all over Ireland will be able to go to Great Victoria Street in Belfast, have a scan to ascertain the duration of their pregnancy and then meet with two doctors to discuss their options.

If they are no more than nine weeks pregnant, then they may be offered what's called a medical, as opposed to a surgical, abortion.

Medical abortion means taking medication which starts the process of expulsion of the foetus.

Where the patient develops complications -- a very rare consequence of medical abortion -- they are within easier reach of help than if they underwent medical abortion in Britain.

The whole process will cost over €500 and, according to the management of the Belfast clinic, is "a matter of choice, every step of the way."

In fact, however, most women who go to the clinic will already have made up their minds. Some will have received advice in crisis pregnancy agencies in the Republic, which are obligated to provide abortion information if it is demanded of them.

These clinics will add Belfast to their leaflets offering addresses, and that, in turn, will utterly change the options available to women in this situation; a shopping trip north of the Border is a lot easier to explain than an out-of-the-blue flight to a British city.



Threat

The grounds for legal abortion in Northern Ireland are that carrying the pregnancy to full term would present a threat to the life of the woman involved or a threat to her physical or mental health.

Pro-choice people believe that women shouldn't have to prove either possibility in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Pro-life people believe that these conditions open the gate to thousands of abortions.

It remains to be seen what effect the opening of the new clinic in Belfast will have on the troubled history of abortion in Ireland.

The one thing that's certain is that it will have an effect -- if only by redrawing the mental maps of women in crisis pregnancy situations.


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