Two young women find out they are both unexpectedly pregnant at 19. They live in shared houses; the situation not ideal for raising a baby.
The first, A, has access to a range of options for her. She is able to consider relinquishing the baby for adoption, keeping the baby and raising it herself, and having a safe medical procedure to terminate the pregnancy.
The second, B, has no access to safe abortion. Her flatmates tell her to go through with the pregnancy and let them adopt the baby. She doesn’t want to be pregnant, but what option does she have? Her country doesn’t allow it. She visits a family planning clinic, who tell her that her only option is to travel abroad, alone, to have an abortion. She can’t afford to do this. She has no way of accessing a safe, legal abortion.
Where are they both two years later?
Girl A, with all the options at her disposal, had the support to make a decision that she was comfortable with. She was supported by those around her, provided with all of the options, and chose to continue with the pregnancy. She is twenty-one and lives with her partner and almost-two-year-old daughter.
Girl B is also twenty-one. She has just been convicted of “procuring her own abortion”. The clinic abroad that she called advised her on what drugs she’d need to take to induce a miscarriage. She purchased them online, took the drugs, her flatmates reported her to the police and now the young woman – who has a partner and another young baby – has been given a suspended prison sentence and a criminal conviction on her record.
Girl B sounds like she comes from a third-world country. Instead, both she and Girl A are citizens of the United Kingdom. So what separates them both?
Their postcode. Girl A is from Wales. Girl B is from Northern Ireland.
If you’ve followed the blog over the last couple of years, you’ll know that Girl A is me. Which is why this news story has sickened me – to know that, had I been born just a short hop across the Irish Sea, I could easily have been Girl B.
How, in this day and age, are we still criminalising a medical procedure? Surely the politicians aren’t so blind to the facts that they can’t see how banning abortion doesn’t stop abortion – it just stops safe abortions. Protesters have been campaigning against Girl B’s sentence, waving coat hangers in the air. This isn’t an empty gesture. It’s a reality of what happens when you ban safe abortions – you just open up a breeding ground for unsafe backstreet procedures that risk the lives of women.
What’s shocked me more than anything is that there are people condemning Girl B; complaining that the sentence was too lenient. The “Precious Life” association are trying to appeal for a harsher sentence for the woman. They are the people who deserve contempt.
The flatmates deserve contempt. Some people have shown sympathy – one of the women had recently suffered a miscarriage. However, from their (ever-changing) story to the police and media, that doesn’t seem to be the reason. You see, the reason they say they went to the police is because Girl B didn’t seem to be showing enough remorse for “what she’d done”. She carried on as normal. It’s since emerged that the flatmate was angry that Girl B wouldn’t allow her to adopt her baby; this bitterness contributed towards her reasons for going to the police.
The entire backwards system in place in Northern Ireland deserves contempt. We have groups – not only far-right groups like UKIP and Britain First, but people of all political persuasions – telling us we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be governed by religious law like Sharia law. At the same time, we willingly turn a blind eye to these archaic, anti-women laws – laws deriven from Catholic beliefs – in our own country.
I don’t know if they think that if they make abortion legal, that everyone will suddenly rush out and get one. It’s not like the release of an iPhone. No-one sees an abortion clinic and thinks “Ooh I gotta get me one of those!”. It’s a medical procedure. It’s a clinical decision. I was in a very similar situation to Girl B. I had all the options open to me. However, because my area of the UK isn’t so bloody backwards when it comes to sex, I was able to talk to people about my decision, and come to the one that suited me best. That decision was to go ahead with the pregnancy, and now here I am.
If Girl B had been in England at the time of her pregnancy, there’s every likelihood she still would have gone ahead with the abortion – and that’s okay, because she would have had every option open to her; she would have been able to discuss it with someone in an unbiased capacity; most importantly, it would have been done safely, in the comfort of a hospital or clinic, under the supervision of trained doctors and with full aftercare support available to her.
She wouldn’t now have a criminal conviction.
She wouldn’t have been dragged through the courts, along with her partner and baby.
She wouldn’t have angry mobs like Bernie Smyth and the rest of her pro-forced-birth gang calling for a stricter sentence for her.
She could have been me; given the support to make a decision and with access to safe healthcare.
I could have been her.
There but for the grace of a postcode.