My abortion activism goes back about two decades at this stage, I used to write the Women’s Information Network’s illegal abortion information phone number 01 6794700 on the blackboards of the 6th year classrooms early in the mornings before anyone else was in.
Needless to say this caused uproar in the convent school I attended: when teachers and the head nun had an inkling it was me I was told to present myself at the office when I arrived each morning. They were going to use the absence of the number to prove it was me and someone else started chalking it on the black boards and it started to appear on the cubicle walls in the toilets in the school.
This was back before the 1992 referendum which made information related to abortion legal. I grew up in an Ireland were magazines were censored and so were UK phone books all over the country, long before it was possible to look up information on the internet. I have been pro choice having seen what family members went through in an Ireland which didn’t talk about miscarriage and treated unmarried mothers badly.
Even after the 1992 while information wasn’t censored, only drs and counselors were to give information to women who were looking for it and that is still the case to day. Before anyone could google B.P.A.S. and get information giving information verbally or a booklet or a photocopy could get you into legal hot water.
When I went to college I got even more involved in pro choice activism, I continued to act as an information point for women*. I had gotten my hands on a bunch of booklets “Traveling to Liverpool: a guide for Irish women” which were produced in 1994 and some activist training and would use them to help women, from teenagers to women in their 40s who didn’t know were to go, were too far away from the I.F.P.A. clinics and so would try their luck with the local college.
This was often a risky adventure, there were those in the college esp the college nurse who opposed me doing this, she was involved with the local Cura Branch and I had heard of other people who were giving out information that they would try and record me. If I wasn’t sure I would arrange to meet people and then accidentally leave behind pages with info on them after saying I could not help.
I also traveled with women over the years and if I didn’t travel with them checked in with them after wards, to make sure they took it easy, so many students who lived away from home during the week would travel and come back to digs or rented house and needed someone to make them tea and listen.
I remember the name of every person I helped back then and when they traveled and some for years later I would get a card or mostly an email to the address I had back then to say thank you or just to have someone who knew to communicate with. So many women edit out that time in their life from their narrative. They box it off don’t think about it, don’t talk about it ever, to anyone and go on to have partners and start families and it’s never mentioned. Not even when dealing with medical professionals in maternity hospitals.
Even after college it didn’t stop, I left an email address with certain people and they would refer people on but soon it was possible to search for information on the internet, but I still ended up being a point of contact and information and the same when I got involved in online communities, way before even bebo. Even in those places when I would talk about the topic in general women would contact me privately to share their stories.
My abortion activism has always been part of my sex education, contraception and Choice activism. I have passed on information on adoption and supports for being a single parent as well over the years but when there were so few places to get abortion information and support most of my first contact encounters over the year have been about abortion.
So many women over the years have shared their stories with me, easily close to 100,
but they would only be `not even .1 % of the 150,000 Irish women we have stats on who have traveled to the UK.
These days there is more information and support but hopefully the day will come when we don’t have to travel.
* I use the term women in my post not to be exclusionary, but as I have not yet knowingly had a transman talk to me about their story or approach me for information.
Helpful links if you need them.