Mara Clarke, Founder and Director of Abortion Support Network, discusses ASN’s latest campaign in this guest blog post for the Feminist Library:
Abortion Support Network launches crowdfunding campaign to support their work helping women in N/Ireland
What would you do if the condom broke? If the morning after pill wasn’t available? If you were pregnant as result of rape? If you found out your much-wanted pregnancy wouldn’t survive past birth? If you looked around at your life and realised you weren’t ready to be a parent? What if you lived in a country where abortion is against the law? Welcome to Ireland in 2014
The 1967 Abortion Act was not extended to Northern Ireland. Even if women living there travel to mainland England, they can’t get an abortion on the NHS and have to pay privately. In the Republic of Ireland, abortion is still governed by the 1861 Offense Against the Persons Act. Much noise was made of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which came into effect in January 2014 and supposedly allows abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, including from suicide, but as we learned over the summer with the case of “Miss Y”, in practice nothing has changed.
So does this mean there’s no abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland? Nope. It just means that, when faced with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, women with money have options and women without money have babies – or take desperate measures.
Abortion Support Network is a grassroots charity that provides financial help, practical information on arranging the least expensive abortion and travel, and accommodation in volunteer homes to women forced to travel from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man (surprise! It’s illegal there!) for abortions. ASN does this with a mobile phone, an excel spreadsheet, a website, a bank account, countless volunteer hours, and, since launching in October 2009, we’ve heard from more than 1600 people. Women as old as 51 and girls as young as 13. Women in or escaping abusive relationships, pregnant as result of rape, with serious mental or physical health issues. Women with children, women with grandchildren, women with no children. Married couples who felt they had enough children already. Students wanting to continue their educations rather than their pregnancies. And what did these people all have in common? They were pregnant. They didn’t want to be pregnant. They are poor. And they never in a million years thought they’d be calling a total stranger in England to ask for money.
Let’s be clear. Abortion Support Network does not hear from the “average” woman needing an abortion. Most women who need abortions have things like credit cards, bank accounts, family they can reach out to for help, jobs. ASN only hears from the women who are desperate. These women are forced by circumstances – usually a combination of draconian abortion laws and poverty – to take what should be a personal and private decision and share it, and many uncomfortable personal details, with a complete stranger. And no matter how nice we are on the phone, or when a woman is sat in our kitchen with her cup of tea, and of course it’s lovely that volunteers are willing to open their homes to strangers and isn’t it great that the sisterhood is alive and well the fact is that this close, intimate relationship is very, very wrong.
ASN is a small organisation trying to alleviate an enormous problem. The Department of Health may be reporting falling numbers of women travelling to England for abortions, but calls to Abortion Support Network have increased year on year, from 89 in our first full year to 466 in 2013 and well over 500 so far in 2014. Altogether we’ve helped over 1600 women, couples and families get the information, practical advice, place to stay and, most importantly, the money they need to get safe abortions. And as we don’t envision reform of Irish abortion law any time soon, we’re expecting numbers to continue to rise in 2015 and beyond.
For years ASN was entirely run by volunteers; we are very grateful to the Feminist Review Trust who gave us a grant of £7500 to fund our first and only part time staff person for the duration of 2014. But 2015 is upon us, and the calls keep coming. ASN found itself at a crossroads: scale up so that we continue to meet demand, or scale back the services we offer and the numbers we can help as an almost entirely volunteer run charity. Being the scrappy optimists that we are, we recently launched a campaign to take ASN to the next level. We’ve always counted on individual donors to support our work and so decided to crowdfund to pay someone (currently me) 3.5 days a week to run the charity. We haven’t had to turn a woman away due to lack of funds in more than two years, something we’re both incredibly proud of and something we don’t want to change.
The law as it stands fails all women in Ireland. But when you make abortion against the law, or restrict it in any way, women only have options if they have a passport, a credit card, someone to watch their kids, and the £400 to £2000 it costs to travel and pay privately for an abortion. Other than ending patriarchy and changing the beliefs of people who can’t seem to grasp that choosing not to have a child at a particular point in your life, or ever, is in itself a valid, moral decision that is, to put it bluntly, not their business, ASN remains the only solution for these women.
Mara Clarke is the Founder and Director of Abortion Support Network. Please visit www.abortionsupport.org.uk to sign up for their eNewsletter or to follow ASN on Twitter or Facebook, or http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/asn-the-next-level/ to make a donation to #TheNextLevel campaign.
Mara would like to poing out that the ASN does not enquire about gender as part of its assessment process. Please note too, that this is a guest blog post, and as such, it represents the views of its author and not necessarily those of the library!