Women are anonymously sharing photos of their shoes to protest Ireland's strict abortion laws

Elise Solé
“In Her Shoes” is a brave photo series featuring anonymous Irish women who have had abortions despite their country’s strict laws. (Photo: In Her Shoes via Facebook)

Women in Ireland are sharing photos of their shoes to protest the country’s strict abortion laws in a moving series called “In Her Shoes.”

In Ireland, women cannot obtain an abortion unless their lives are in immediate danger. Those who have the procedure risk facing up to 14 years in prison, including victims of rape and incest, according to Amnesty International UK. The law is part of the country’s Eighth Amendment that was enacted in 1983.

Currently, thousands of Irish women travel to neighboring countries to undergo abortions, and at least three women per day risk prison sentences to take abortion pills ordered online. However, in January, according to NBC News, the Irish government proposed repealing the Eighth Amendment to allow abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy, an idea that has divided the country.

Erin (whose last name she withheld for privacy reasons), an American mother of three and an artist in Galway, Ireland, launched “In Her Shoes” in January, to give women a safe, anonymous platform to express their views on having had an abortion. The title of the project is inspired by the saying “You can’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes,” and represents the fight to evoke compassion for these women and repeal the Eighth Amendment. 

On the page, women post photos of their shoes and the backstories of how they obtained abortions. “I have been pregnant in this country four times, suffering a miscarriage at 13 weeks,” Erin tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “As an American immigrant I don’t get to vote, and it is vitally important that I reach just one undecided voter to be the voice of me and my daughters.”

When Erin launched the “incredibly humbling” movement, she collected a few stories from friends, but it quickly took off, acquiring 64,000 followers in only several months. “This tells me that women need to tell their stories,” Erin says. “The silence and shame is being lifted, these stories are healing to tell — and they are healing for society to read.”

A disabled former nurse who posted a pair of brown boots said that a traumatic divorce, which included losing her children, caused her to become suicidal. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and became unexpectedly pregnant. “When I saw the two lines indicating it was positive, I began to shake violently, feeling very close to fainting,” she wrote. Because her medication caused birth defects, “I was faced with the worst decision I’ve ever had to make: Risk my life and stop taking the medication to give life to what could be a profoundly disabled child or travel for a termination.” She flew to England to take the abortion pill in a hospital.

“Before this day I was rigidly on the pro-life side of the debate,” she wrote. “I couldn’t understand how someone could choose to end a pregnancy. Selfish, horrible women who were too lazy to take proper precautions. … That’s what I thought … until this day. You simply cannot understand that situation unless you’ve lived through it. When it’s your life hanging in the balance, the terms feel a little different.”

Another woman, who posted an image of her feet in black shoes, wrote that she became pregnant while in an abusive relationship, despite never skipping a birth-control pill. A week before her scheduled abortion in another country, her home was robbed and her passport stolen. She was on the verge of suicide, standing in her bathroom with a handful of pills, when a friend with a connection to the passport agency called and helped her secure a flight. “If she hadn’t have called at that second. I’d be dead now,” she wrote. “Please vote yes. I should never have felt so desperate that I wanted to kill myself.”

A woman who became pregnant in her teens flew to London with her mother to have an abortion, but on the flight, her mother had what was suspected to be a heart attack. “At one point I remember sitting in the toilet crying, petrified that my mum was going to die and people would find out we were in London (we’d lied and said we were going to Kerry).” Her mother was hospitalized in London, so the teen was forced to continue on alone. “I never regretted my decision to have a termination but I did regret that I had to travel to a different country and put my mum through that experience,” she wrote. “I went on to have three children that I love more than anything and my mum is still there supporting me.”

Another woman discovered she was pregnant the night before her first day of college. “It felt like my world was coming crashing down around me because I knew I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know how I would tell people, I didn’t know how I would fix it,” she wrote, adding, “I broke my parents’ hearts the day they found out, they never expected me, the quiet one, to end up in this situation. I still remember my mom’s cries and sheer upset. My dad couldn’t look at me and spent the day keeping busy. That night I slept in the same bed as my mom, something I hadn’t done since I was a child and we both cried ourselves to sleep.”

The woman traveled to England to get services, and seven years later the experience brings her shame. “I still keep my secret, afraid of what people may say, what they might think.”

Another woman described how during her first year of college she was in a violent relationship and  developed a severe eating disorder. After being raped by her abuser, she became pregnant and ultimately had a miscarriage. “There is no defense to not repeal the 8th,” she wrote. My ex forbid me from having an abortion. I still grieve for my lost child, but I know had that pregnancy continued, I would still be in that relationship today if [the baby] was still alive. That child would’ve been brought up in a violent relationship with two kids. Under the 8th, I was trapped. … I think about all those women who might not be able to get out [in] time. I think about all those women who end up staying in a terrible relationship with an unwanted child. Please keep those women in your hearts when you vote on repeal.”

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