Mara Clarke: The law and resulting provision are leaving too many people behind

Comments made by Mara Clarke, Abortion Support Network, at the Abortion Rights Campaign Press Conference, Buswells Hotel on September 25th.

Thank you for having me. Abortion Support Network is a small UK charity that has been helping women and pregnant people in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man access safe and legal abortions for almost exactly 10 years. Happy birthday to us. We also recently expanded to Malta and Gibraltar. We provide information on the least expensive way to afford abortion and travel, financial help towards the €500 to €2500 or more it costs and, where appropriate and possible, accommodation in volunteer homes. We are funded by private individuals and largely run by volunteers and since turning on our phone in 2009 we have heard from more than 5000 people. 3500 of them have contacted us from the Republic of Ireland.

I could go on about a lot of things – like how on the day of the Referendum result we were dealing with five clients all above 12 weeks pregnant. This included a 16 year old girl who tried excessive drink and drug use as part of her attempt to self abort who scanned 3 days over the limit when she got to England. Or about how everyone was telling us that ASN could close now. We knew that we would never be able to close.

Don’t get me wrong. Any person resident in Ireland who can get an abortion without having to get on a boat or a plane is a miracle. But there are many, many people who are falling through the cracks. These people include:

  1. Women and pregnant people who are more than 12 weeks pregnant, many pushed over the limit by delays getting appointments, the medically unnecessary 3 day wait period, and delays in getting dating scans.
  2. Those who take EMA and it fails. Yes, that happens.
  3. International students, refugees and others told they didn’t qualify for care in Ireland when they did
  4. People over 12 weeks who need a visa to travel, especially since non-EU nationals living in Ireland haven’t been able to get timely visas to the UK for more than 2 years.
  5. Women and couples with pregnancies diagnosed with catastrophic but not bad enough for 2 doctors to swear that the baby will die within 28 days foetal abnormalities.
  6. Anyone who does not have a home or a safe space where they live to spend hours having a miscarriage and exhibiting the associated symptoms
  7. People delayed in accessing care by rogue crisis pregnancy centres.
  8. Women delayed by anti choice GPs who lie to them and say they are not pregnant, were never pregnant, must have miscarried, but . . .they are pregnant.

If those examples, taken from ASN’s client database, were too vague for you, here are some specifics:

A client with a disability who was over 12 weeks. Because of the nature of her disability the English hospital would not agree to treatment unless someone could collect her after treatment. There was no one in her life available to travel with her.

More than 10 clients who scanned over by fewer than 3 days of the 12 week limit, including someone who went to her doctor, was sent for a scan, and when she was asked to return for the results was told she was 12 weeks 1 day.

A woman who had two failed early medical abortions in Ireland, who was then told that the foetus had serious but not fatal abnormalities.

A woman pregnant as result of incest who was too traumatised to obtain care prior to passing the 12 week limit.

A woman who was told she was infertile who wound up being pregnant anyway. Her medical professionals refused to do anything other than “celebrate” this “blessed” event. 

A young teen who didn’t realise she was pregnant until she passed the 12 week limit who was only able to raise E20 because she’s, well, a young teen.

A woman who went to a rogue crisis pregnancy centre told her she was more than 12 weeks pregnant and to start taking ante natal vitamins. By the time she went to her GP to confirm several weeks later, she was . . . . 12 weeks 2 days. Rogue agencies have delayed at least four of our clients. 

A woman who came over for a termination in England after being told in Ireland that she was 17 weeks pregnant.  When she arrived to the clinic, the scan put her at 21 weeks, a cost increase of €800 and also a procedure that wasn’t performed at the clinic she was at. The client needed to go back home to Ireland and travel back a week later, stay for three days, and travel to two clinics on opposite sides of London.
A non EU national who discovered her pregnancy at 13 weeks. Upon travelling to the UK she was told of a serious medical condition that meant she needed to be seen in a hospital. Her bag was stolen on her way home, so she needed a new passport and a new visa before she could return for hospital care.

A woman caring for a seriously ill parent on top of her young children unable to arrange for someone else to care for her family while she travelled to two appointments far from her home.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough to give you a flavour of an average day at Abortion Support Network. Except. Do you know what keeps us up at night? The people who DON’T call. The people living on the fringes – homeless, migrants, refugees, Irish Travellers, people in abusive relationships, pregnant children and more who think they are outside of the system or don’t qualify for care. Or those try and access on the system, are over 12 weeks, and think there are no options for them.

ASN do our best to let people know we are still here. We are still here not only for people over 12 weeks or who are otherwise ineligible for care but for anyone who finds that accessing care within the system presents an undue burden. But we know people are missing, especially those over 12 weeks. This is NOT good enough. The law and resulting provision are leaving too many people behind. And having us, a small charity in another country, as your safety net, is failing some of your most vulnerable people.

Thank you.