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When abortion seems the answer

30 November, 1999

In “Face Up”, a magazine for teenagers, Anne Dempsey asks why hundreds of Irish teens have abortions every year. She looks at the other choices available to those who find themselves pregnant.

What would you do if you found yourself pregnant and hadn’t planned it? Or if your girlfriend told you she was pregnant and you hadn’t bargained for it?

If you’re typical of most people – you panic. Research at Trinity College, Dublin found that in terms of managing crisis pregnancies, one in three of the 7,000-plus Irish women and girls who have an abortion each year don’t go near any pregnancy counselling services to discuss other options.

Acting out of panic
One reason is because many teens don’t know about pregnancy counselling services – until they need them.  But a bigger reason is panic. Many teens panic when they find they’re pregnant, and end up doing something they may later regret.

June is a pregnancy counsellor. “Many people come to us in a terrible tizz. They feel they have this awful secret, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know who to turn to, they can’t think straight, and with all that pressure, they just want the problem to go away.”

In this state of panic, abortion can seem the easiest option. A letter to The Irish Times some time ago listed the reasons why women choose to have an abortion. These include 

  • being too young
  • being still in school
  • having started college or in a first job
  • having enough children already
  • knowing the child’s father is not their current husband or partner
  • being in a violent relationship and not feeling safe or stable enough to bring a child into the world

Afraid to tell parents
Young people who still live at home can also be afraid to  tell their parents. “A lot of teens are upset for themselves but also concerned at bringing worry to their parents,” says June. “They say things like ‘My Dad will kill me’ or ‘Mum will be very upset.’ We don’t force people to tell their parents, but we do encourage it, and we ask them to come back to us with their parents.

“Usually, when parents find out, they are upset. They are disappointed. They are concerned for their son and daughter, and yes, they can be angry. But almost always parents come round, often quite quickly, and by the time the baby is born everyone is very excited and there is a great welcome in the family.”

Support agencies
So, who is there to help with crisis pregnancies in Ireland and what service do they offer? Many agencies see people without an appointment, but you can also get an appointment quite quickly. You will be seen in privacy and given time to explore things in friendly, supportive surroundings. You will be helped to find the best solution for you and your baby, rather than having anything imposed on you. Most of the services are free, and one of the main benefits in talking things over is that it will reduce the feelings of panic.

Of course, if you don’t want to go to a crisis pregnancy service, or are not able to, you can talk to your family doctor, school counsellor or chaplain.

Hard decisions
Will information and a caring ear always be enough to prevent abortion? “There are situations when people still opt for abortion even after counselling. The most difficult pregnancy is as a result of rape. This is relatively rare but extremely traumatic. A girl may feel having an abortion will somehow get rid of the rape, but often they then need counselling for the abortion as well as the rape,” says June.

“Much more common would be girls coming to us pregnant, who slept with someone they met at a disco, a club, a party, or on holiday – your typical one-night stand. Often they were drunk, or don’t remember who it was, or never knew him anyway, and may only have a first name. Then the pregnancy comes like a bolt from the blue.

“From our perspective, we see very clearly the problems that occur when girls get too drunk to take care of themselves. They sit in front of us in shock. ‘I didn’t know what I was doing’ is what we hear most often.

“Often these pregnancies can be different from those where a girl becomes pregnant with a boyfriend or in a long-term relationship. First, she is far less likely to get any support from the boy. Anyway, she mightn’t even know him, so she may have only her family to turn to, and then she has to expose the circumstances of the pregnancy, which can be humiliating for her. So for those reasons, there can be less desire to keep the baby, and again abortion can seem like a quick fix solution. But it’s still a life, a life with wonderful potential.”

The adoption option
“Some girls are very brave. They don’t approve of abortion, so they go through with it, have the baby, and then place it for adoption. We would be supporting them all the way through. It’s a courageous, generous decision, and it takes a lot of guts. It means that a childless couple will be able to adopt a baby they long for, and in most cases adoption turns out very well.

“But it often happens that a girl has the baby and then finds it very hard to give it up. It’s completely understandable. Girls who opt for adoption are not pressured into the decision in any way, and even after the baby is born, or placed with a family, she has time before she has to give her final consent.

“A new trend is for open adoptions where the adoptive family keeps some contact with the natural mother. Not every family is able for this, nor every girl either, but when it does work out it can be a very positive outcome to what could have been a tragedy.”

Ruth’s abortion
When Ruth’s violent boyfriend made her pregnant, she felt she had no choice but to have an abortion. Now she is full of regrets.

Ruth found she was pregnant after she had split with a violent boyfriend. She knew he’d find out about the pregnancy as soon as she began to show, and that he’d never leave her alone, as he was possessive and jealous as well as violent. So she decided, most reluctantly, to have an abortion.

Ruth told her parents, who were very sad at the thought of aborting what would be their first grandchild. They tried to persuade her to change her mind. The family talked it over in great detail and Ruth went for counselling. But she still chose to have an abortion, and her mother travelled with her to London for the termination.

“We went to this big house in the country on a pleasant, woody lane. When we arrived, it was terrible. There were people praying outside and begging us not to go in. I got very upset and pleaded with them to leave me alone. I felt terrible enough as it was, but I had my mind made up, and they weren’t going to make me change it at that stage, just upset me more,” says Ruth.

“We had to wait a long time, and I had a number of pre-tests. Then I was called in and given an anaesthetic. I don’t think I was out for very long, and when I woke up, I worried that it hadn’t happened. But they said it was all over, and I had to rest for a time before rejoining my mother, who was waiting downstairs.

“That night I had cramps and didn’t feel well, and I bled a bit – but I knew that was normal. We came back to Ireland the next day. I felt fine at first, just a great sense of relief, particularly at not having to tell my boyfriend. I did feel regret for him that he would never know he had a child, but I still felt it was something I had to do.

“As time went on, though, I would get upset and go over what I’d done again and again. One of my main regrets was getting pregnant in the first place. I should have been more careful, but it was a bullying relationship, and I often didn’t get to do what I wanted.

“Now I find it hard to look at babies on television or in magazines or in ads, and I think about what age my baby would be now – and I’m sad. I know I did wrong, and yet at the time I felt I had no option. Now I am full of regrets.”

Some useful contacts
Cura is a national agency offering a telephone helpline for advice and support. It provides free pregnancy testing, pregnancy counselling by a trained volunteer, help for the expectant father and other family members, access to medical help, information on social welfare and other rights and entitlements, as well as a befriending/support service. Cura has centres in Athlone, Castlebar, Cork, Derry, Dublin, Dundalk, Ennis, Galway, Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Limerick, Monaghan, Sligo, Thurles, Tralee, Waterford, Wexford. Tel: LoCall 1850 62 26 26.

Life is a national agency offering a telephone helpline for advice and support. It provides free pregnancy testing with immediate results, pregnancy counselling (no appointment needed), information on social welfare and entitlements, medical and legal advice, accommodation advice, and post-abortion counselling. Life has centres in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Letterkenny, Thurles, Tullamore. Tel: LoCall 1850 28 12 81.

Treoir offers good information to single mothers on rights, social welfare entitlements, shared parenting and other issues. Treoir, 14 Gandon House, IFSC, Dublin 1. Tel: 01 670 0166.

The Crisis Pregnancy Agency works to reduce the number of women with crisis pregnancies who opt for abortion by offering services and supports which make other options more attractive provide counselling and medical services after a crisis pregnancy. The Crisis Pregnancy  Agency has produced Positive Options, a directory of agencies offering advice and counselling to women who find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy. Contact CPA, 89 Capel Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01-8146292.


This article first appeared in Face-Up (Jan 2005), a magazine for teenagers published by the Irish Redemptorists.