Irish women have been travelling to Britain for abortions for decades. In 1975, when I was a young English woman working as a union officer in Dublin, a desperate male friend asked how his wife’s 15-year-old sister could get an abortion (We must never stop fighting for the right to legal abortion, 8 March). Without knowledge of or access to contraception, her first sexual foray had left her pregnant. As a Brit, it was assumed I knew how to use my own country’s still new abortion law.
I scrabbled to find information about the Liverpool clinic; girl and mother took the boat and the deed was done. Anxious to prevent a repeat, the clinic provided a priest to reassure the girl she wasn’t eternally damned, plus contraceptive advice and a supply of pills, which she hid in her knicker drawer. Her mother found the pills and threw them away. Fifteen months on, the girl was pregnant again – and married.
In the early 80s, living and working in Belfast, I spoke at the first meeting ever in Northern Ireland calling for equal application of Britain’s abortion law. Today there is real hope for reform in the Irish Republic. It’s time we remembered our fellow British citizens in Northern Ireland, who still have to take ferry or plane to secure a service we have had “on this side of the water” for half a century.
• Suzanne Moore rightly says that “to read the words of [the Irish constitution’s] eighth amendment is to see fundamentalism in action”. However, there is no guarantee that the extreme version of Roman Catholicism that has held sway since the foundation of the Irish state will not successfully reassert itself in the forthcoming referendum to repeal the amendment. The anti-abortion lobby is extremely confident, bordering on complacency. A statement from a recent meeting of the Catholic bishops said that repeal would be a “great irony” and proof “that we in Ireland are for the first time in our history losing our clarity about the right to life of the unborn”. Suzanne Moore states that women’s “rights are hard won and are always under attack”. I’m praying that the battle will be won by the pro-choice side; mostly for all Irish people, male and female, but also as a major victory in the global war for sensible and civilised reproductive rights for women everywhere.
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