Free. Safe. Legal.Niamh Curran

Content note: this article discusses abortion, sex and makes mention of rape

This week I told around 20 people I would get ‘Free Safe Legal’ tattooed on my ass. I think this was partly a joke and also partly not – I’m still considering it. Then again, a friend pointed out to me that I should really avoid evoking any thoughts of children in the bedroom. So I’m taking it under consideration.

With the abortion referendum coming up in the Republic of Ireland, I’m feeling frustrated. This is simply a political issue in which I have no real say. I can change my profile picture and go to protests, but I can’t actually change what happens. This is not to say that I think I should have a vote – despite having an Irish passport, I respect that I can’t vote. But I thought I would highlight my own experiences of what it is like to have the lack of access to free, safe and legal abortion.

I was afraid. I knew that if I got pregnant and had a baby, I would be unfit to be a parent

Growing up in Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal (as some people in the rest of the UK don’t realise), I have always been vocally pro-choice. I would aggressively debate my points to my Religious Education teacher, who was probably confused with my vicious rants. I would even bring it up at perfectly inopportune times – yes, a gathering of my extended Catholic family was the perfect time to discuss the classism of the abortion laws.

But despite the verbose appearance, this came from a place of fear. I was afraid. I knew that if I got pregnant and had a baby, I would be unfit to be a parent. And, from a selfish perspective, if that didn’t ruin my life, it would certainly be an unwanted roadblock. Looking back, I was completely right. I could barely feed myself, never mind look after the malleable-putty-humans that are babies. This is not to say that those who chose to have their children are wrong to do so, I just know that it would have been wrong for me.

The one time I thought I might be pregnant I was scared - terrified

So, we (my friends and I), didn’t go near sex. This was partly from circumstance - I was pretty nerdy and being known as the ‘angry feminist’ doesn’t exactly give you many options. But it was also partly from fear. There was a running joke that if you so much as touched a boy and you didn’t immediately get your period, you were pregnant.

Although it’s a joke, from first-hand experience it’s a concept that is hard to laugh about. The one time I thought I might be pregnant I was scared – terrified. I didn’t even have sex, or close to it. But I still had my friend’s mum drive us to the supermarket, and buy me a pregnancy test. I, of course, sent my friend’s mum in to buy the test on her own, as I could not deal with the embarrassment. My friend and I waited in the car listening to Taylor Swift while she mocked me for my paranoia. But I knew that she would have done the same, had she been in my position. We all knew the reality.

This fear was crippling at times. When I got to university, I wanted to be normal and sexually active but I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. Jokes cropped up about me being afraid of sex, or having particularly prudish attitudes. Sure, this was in part from a history of Catholicism, but it also was a residual effect of fear.


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My mother encouraged me to go on the pill before I went to university – she knew the fear as well. All too often she had known bright young girls who at age 16 were suddenly having to stop school to look after a child. It’s hard to say that those people would have gotten abortions – they were all Catholic – but it was something my mum was afraid I would face. In the previously mentioned time, when I thought I was pregnant, I was so worried I could hardly sleep. My mum wanted to know why so I told her. She assured me that I wouldn’t be pregnant, but that if I was we could ‘sort it out’. Although this might seem callous to some, this was of a great comfort at the time.

My feelings on this can easily be torn apart. They show elements of selfishness and some could see a lack of responsibility. There are plenty of reasons to have abortion rights. Be it the cruelty of having to carry an unviable foetus to term, or in cases of rape. However, what I offer here is the reality of fear. A fear of having your life ruined, a fear of ruining other lives, and a fear of sex in general. This fear then leads to dangerous abortions, or if you can afford to ‘get the boat’ England, then that. I hope for the sake of Irish women that the referendum is a ‘yes’, but I have no say in the matter. All I can say is that strict abortion laws leave women afraid – and that’s worth acting on.

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