Rosemarie Hayden writes: MY CHOICE I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. About 25 years.
But in recent times the Repeal the 8th Referendum conversation has felt too raw and too personal and I’ve felt too scared to get involved. I’ve thought and thought and talked to my family and even though I’m still scared of raising my head above the parapet, I feel that this is too important to sit on the side-lines anymore.
I’m more scared that this Referendum won’t pass and that my daughters will be affected into the future by a law that is unjust, inhumane and totally lacking in compassion. For this reason I’m sharing my own story.
I’m a mother, a wife, a solicitor, a humanitarian aid volunteer. For a time I was an unmarried teenage mum.
All of those labels describe me in part but don’t define me and none of them fully explain why I feel so strongly that we need to Repeal the 8th. When I was growing up and my mam would take me to the doctor I remember being excited to read the glossy women’s magazines in the Doctor’s waiting room.
Our doctor’s waiting room was a portacabin and this being the late 80s/early90s, glamour was in short supply! I remember being fascinated by the blacking out of sections in the backs of the magazines. The blacking out intrigued me.
Why would something be printed in a magazine and then blacked out? Why was it printed at all? Did anyone get to see it? If other people got to see it, why couldn’t I? And what did it say?
It was later in the 90s during my teenage years that information trickled through that this was a blacking out of the details of abortion clinic details in the UK. What my now adult daughter finds fascinating about my growing up time, is that I grew up before the ‘information age’ where if you wanted to research something you consulted the Library, not Google; phone numbers were all landline and you looked them up in the phone book (or if you were lazy you risked your parents ire calling directory enquiries) and we still got and sent letters.
Information was hard to come by. At the risk of sounding like a 30-something dinosaur I still find it amazing that whatever information I need today is basically available to me at the click of my fingers or even the sound of my voice if Siri is cooperating.
Information is power and in the 90s there wasn’t a lot of power to be had if you were a pregnant teenage schoolgirl. I fell pregnant in 1995, the year that finally saw the closure of the last Magdalene Laundry.
I fell pregnant despite the use of contraception, 3 years after the X case and the passing of the 13th and 14th amendments. At this stage I was politically savvy enough to know that the right to travel and right to information were written into the Constitution but the reality was that if you didn’t have money you didn’t have a chance of exercising the ‘rights’ enshrined in the Constitution.
In later times I found myself wondering at how society could be ok with the idea of exporting our issues to the UK rather than dealing with them ourselves.
We gained our independence in 1922 but apparently we’re ok with still being dependant on the NHS to deal with what we haven’t got the courage to deal with ourselves. During the initial referendum campaign to approve the 8th amendment our now President, Michael D. Higgins argued that the amendment reminded him of what Davitt had said 100 years ago that if the the Irish had a weakness worse than drink it was moral cowardice.
In all the rhetoric to retain the 8th amendment I have never heard any argument to repeal the 13th and 14th amendments, meaning we have a constitutional right to information on and travel to avail of a procedure that if it were to take place within the state would carry a 14 year prison sentence.
I can think of no other crime which we have a constitutionally protected right to information on and freedom of travel to commit. I had the choice. I live in a country where abortion is, mainly, still illegal.
In 1995 as a pregnant 16 year old facing into my Leaving Cert, living in a rural area where I had never met a single parent, I was lucky enough to have a choice. Money was available for me to travel.
There was no legal impediment to my travel; I wasn’t in the care of the state or a refugee so money was the only criteria. The irony struck me at the time and many times since then that if money is the only criteria what we’re saying is that women with money have choice and women without money have not.
That is not a republic which cherishes all children equally. What we’re saying then is that if you can’t afford an abortion you will be raising a child instead. This seems utterly insane to me.
If you don’t have the funds for an abortion, I can’t imagine how trapped you would feel in being forced to continue with a pregnancy you don’t want. I can’t see the logic of how it could be considered better for society to bring children who are not actively wanted into the world.
The fact that I had a choice made my path easier. Becoming a parent at any stage or age is never easy and isn’t taken lightly. I considered all my options and decided to raise my daughter myself.
This I have been able to do with the support of her father and all our extended family, and particularly my mum, who, while a devout Catholic, would have supported me no matter what choice I had made. My choice was the right one for me, for my personal circumstances alone.
I had always been pro-choice, but that didn’t mean that I would automatically opt for an abortion if it were available to me. It was available to me and I made my choice.
The day I made my choice was the day I became a parent and there has never been a day since that I have been anything other than incredibly glad that I positively decided to do. I chose to become a mum. I decided that if I was going to sign up to this, I had to be prepared to give it my all.
My child deserved nothing less than the best. They hadn’t chosen the circumstances of their birth, so they had no reason to be disadvantaged as a result. I think and hope I’ve followed through on that. My amazing, funny, kind, intelligent daughter recently graduated university with her honours degree as a healthcare professional and I am incredibly proud of the wonderful young woman she has become. She askedme recently what I think my life would have been like if she had never been born.
I was honestly very upset at the thought of my world without her; she has enriched my life daily and has been my greatest motivator as well as occasionally my most ‘honest’ critic!
My choice was mine alone and I am so grateful for the freedom and peace of mind that it has brought me.
It meant that once I made my choice mine was an unexpected, but not unwanted pregnancy and that created a huge shift of mind-set that was so essential for me in raising my child. This is not to say that I think my choice is the ‘right’ one, but that it was the one that was right for me.
Since then I have supported 2 friends in arranging a termination. Their choice was the right one for them. My heart broke that they could not access these services at home and had the pain and upset of travel when they should have been home in bed with family to care for them. The travel didn’t change their decision, it just added an extra layer of misery to a decision that no one ever wants to have to make, and that no one takes lightly.
In more recent times I met and married my husband when my daughter was already an adult.
I had never envisaged myself getting married or having more children, but one of the first things that drew me to my husband was seeing in him a father in waiting.
During our first year together his parenting credentials were put to the test when he found himself in loco parentis to a somewhat loco teen facing into her Leaving Cert while I spent a month in hospital intubated and tube fed due to an acute Crohn’s episode.
Battle hardened from juggling health and exams, work and life; from our earliest days together we talked of having a child together. Diaries were consulted and plans were made, literally, years in advance.
Finally, once the stars had aligned and my health was stable, exams were done, wedding rings were exchanged and five quick years had passed, we conceived our long-awaited child. This was an entirely different pregnancy and path to parenthood.
Over 20 years had passed since my previous pregnancy had been considered a social problem, now congratulations abounded – a pregnant married lady in her 30s ticks all the boxes, so all should have been plain sailing – except it wasn’t.
My health in the interim was not what it had been and keeping well enough to stay pregnant was dependant on injections of very strong medications and a low dose of a chemotherapy drug that made my hair fall out in high enough doses.
I was acutely aware that this was a long way from my previous pregnancy when the only tablet that crossed my lips was a multi-vitamin as I now threw back a mouthful of pills each morning to make sure I could stay pregnant. Being a high-risk pregnancy, I was under close monitoring. Matters were exacerbated when I was involved in a car accident at 9 weeks pregnant. I was inconsolable at the thought that this long planned, and much-wanted pregnancy could be in any danger.
Thankfully the pregnancy continued but a resultant pelvic injury made the rest of the pregnancy hard work by any estimation. Every day I longed for the birth of my baby, not just to meet the wee one but also for hoped for relief from pain. It occurred to me that it was hard enough to suffer pain during a much-wanted pregnancy; I couldn’t imagine the extra load that would be to be forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy.
I was delighted to receive the best of healthcare at the National Maternity Hospital throughout both my pregnancies, and never more so than when I was admitted as an emergency with pre-eclampsia and induced early as a result. Huge sighs of relief all round when our tiny, perfect daughter came safely into the world. At no point did
I feel anything but great care, but at the back of my mind was always – what would happen if I were like Savita? She too was a married professional woman in her 30s and she diedshe was refused an abortion. With my health concerns that scenario didn’t feel so far away. I found it utterly unnerving that my life would need to be in the balance before action could be taken to save it. As a lawyer I believe we have something to offer in a great variety of settings, but the operating theatre is not one.
So where does that leave us? Some might say that my story is evidence that the 8th doesn’t need to be repealed- healthcare is good, and if someone ‘really’ wants an abortion they can just pop over to the UK to get one. I wanted to tell my story because in the past few months I have felt that the dialogue has been so divisive and either/or, that a perspective honed from an experience of planned and unplanned pregnancy as a teenager and as a geriatric (yes really!!) expectant mother could be a useful addition to the debate.
Pro-choice is not code for pro-abortion. It’s exactly what it says on the tin – it promotes the right to choice. This is about healthcare, but more importantly it’s about care. I want to live in a republic that really does cherish all its children equally and I believe part of that is ensuring that, all children born in this country know that they are wanted and cared for and that they can expect to have the same equal rights to healthcare, education, food, housing and love.
That’s what I want for my children.