“I’ve never chosen to terminate a pregnancy, so it was some surprise to discover that I’ve had a medical abortion. It’s all in the language.” That was the line that kept me awake.
Marie Stopes International have opened a clinic in Belfast, offering advice, guidance and medical abortion within exisiting NI law, and there has been uproar. Our media and religious groups like a bit of controversy.
The sexual and reproductive health clinic is open two days a week in Belfast city centre, widening access to support already available through GPs and the Family Planning Association.There is no suggestion that the clinic will do anything other than operate within the current legal framework- that is, apart from a range of sexual and reproductive health clinic services, medical abortion up to nine weeks, where the woman’s life is in danger, or her health would be permanently and severely damaged by having a child. There is no provision for legal abortion in the case of foetal abnormality, nor in cases of rape or incest, nor to protect the life or health of the mother after 9 weeks gestation. Currently in Northern Ireland between 30 and 40 medical abortions are carried out per year. Over 1,000 women giving NI addresses travelled to England and Wales for terminations of pregnancy in 2011.
Somwhere in all the publicity surrounding the opening of the clinic, I was sure I read something that suggested that the words ‘medical abortion’ didn’t simply apply to those whose life was in danger, or whose health would be permanently and severely damaged by pregnancy. I understood the article to say that procedures such as Evacuation of the Retained Products of Conception (ERPC, sometimes carried out after miscarriage) counted somehow as abortion. I concluded that although the intention of the procedures was very different, technically they were much of a muchness. I found that odd, but thought no more about it. Yesterday, catching up with Nick, I considered it again.
Would those protesters be shouting at me too? I’ve had a miscarriage and a procedure to Evacuate the Retained Products of Conception (Our hopes, our future. Our baby.) If they’re going to be waving placards at those who are seeking contraceptive advice, routine gynae, STI screening, those going through miscarriage, how will they know who are the
abortion seeking people looking to save their lives? They’ll waste all that energy shouting at the wrong people! Down with that sort of thing! And seriously, if they’d shouted at me, I’d just have dissolved on the spot. I was an emotional wreck. Overcome by loss and failure, I was as vulnerable as I’ve ever been. What do those protesters know about the physical or emotional state of anyone else? How can they presume anything?
We discovered that our baby wasn’t really a baby- just a blob of cells that stopped developing at about 6 weeks, although my body kept on thinking it was pregnant until nearly 10 weeks. A blighted ovum. We went home and cried. I cleaned things that had never been cleaned before, nor maybe since. Spurs Fan went to work, as if he wasn’t being bereaved, as if his hopes too weren’t pooling in blood at my feet.
We went back to hospital, to the Emergency department. I had to shout through a glass that I was miscarrying. I had to pee in a bottle, and see the nurse balk at all the blood that got into the sample. I stayed overnight. The nurse sent Spurs Fan home. All of the next day I waited, still bleeding heavily. On the second evening, ready to eat the arm off the next person who walked in, I was taken to surgery. I kept my glasses on until I was actually in the theatre- my world was upside down enough without being unable to see.
It was over. I was advised to take lots of iron. I cried for weeks. We went on our planned trip to New York where we did none of the late night party city stuff. I got divorced. More failure. More loss. A summer of feeling fat and frumpy. Failing and fat. Miserable. And fat. And queasy. And doesn’t coffee taste really horrible all of a sudden… Girl1 was on her way.
All this stuff was fermenting in my head all day (thanks, Nick) and, most annoyingly, stopped me from sleeping. It takes a lot to stop me from sleeping. I had a first line and I needed to use it. So I got up to sort it all out, to find those figures and put the world to rights. Except, I can’t find them. It appeard those figures don’t exist. Either I made them up totally, or the little side box they were in got taken down, probably because it was full of wrong information. My mind is usually foggy or flighty, but I don’t think I normally just imagine things like this. So, having got out of bed to be irate, and not yet ready to retire, chastened, I poked about a bit. This debate on procedures and language was as much as I could find. (It is late. My blood is coming off the boil. I’m not a researcher… and other excuses.)
After all that, it looks like I was getting annoyed about something that wouldn’t apply in my case – but the point stands. Who is anyone to presume, or to judge? Who knows what circumstances people are in?
The cold people outside with placards have the right to protest. Women don’t have the legal right to choose to terminate a pregnancy in Northern Ireland, but they do have the right to seek help, support and guidance without fear of hectoring or being made to feel guilty for the choices they do make. We don’t have to agree with each other’s choices. So if the protestors could do so quietly, and women could try and not look pregnant when they go into that building on Thursdays or Saturdays, then maybe we can all just get along.
photograph from the Guardian