During Covid-19 abortions are available by post. Rowena candidly talks about her abortion and how it shaped who she is today, whilst abortions in Northern Ireland are still difficult to obtain.
On March 31st 2020, the government announced that people in England and Wales could have home abortions during the Covid-19 outbreak. Following a telephone consultation with a doctor, abortion pills will be sent by post to people up to 10 weeks pregnant.
In Northern Ireland, politicians delayed access to abortion services, despite law changes last month. As a response to this and the outbreak of Covid-19, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has initiated a new service that will allow people in Northern Ireland to receive abortion pills by post.
Reading about the recent changes made me think about my own experience of having an abortion. I didn’t have to catch a ferry, nor borrow hundreds of pounds from a relative. The conception was consensual and I didn’t have to resort to attempting suicide to escape my situation, unlike some in Northern Ireland.
I was lucky enough to receive care with no judgement, no fee and no complications. This is how it should be for everyone.
Eight years ago, I stared at the aborted embryo stuck to the side of the toilet bowl and wondered how we got there.
I was twenty-one, recently unemployed, perpetually broke and technically single. Living with my parents and barely an AS level under my belt, a positive pregnancy test was not a welcome sight. The mother in me – I believe I was always meant to be a mother – ached and so I allowed her, for a minute, to fantasise about names and give up alcohol with smug pride. Then I tucked her up in bed and rang my GP when she wasn’t listening.
In the doctor’s room, I told him plainly, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want to be.” He nodded and picked up his desk phone, his fingers hovering for a moment over the buttons before he rang through to a colleague.
“Yes, where can I refer this patient to if she is… not keen on pregnancy?”
Those words, in any other situation, would have made me laugh. I wasn’t keen on broccoli. I wasn’t too keen Ryan Gosling. But my pregnancy? That wasn’t really a keen-or-not state of affairs.
I was referred to BPAS, who provide abortions for up to 80,000 women every year. At the initial appointment, I was asked for my sexual orientation and relationship status. I lied and said that I had a boyfriend. I wondered what his reason for not being there was. Dick.
A nurse performed an ultrasound on my lower abdomen and confirmed seven weeks gestation. I didn’t look at the screen when she offered.
A fortnight later, in a room that smelt like latex, two tablets were inserted into my vagina by a gentle nurse who offered to let me do it myself. I asked her to do it in case I couldn’t reach all the way up.
I took the prescribed painkillers with a McDonalds Happy Meal in the branch on the ramp in Birmingham town centre. They kicked in fast and I felt drunk suddenly. The friend I had dragged along to the appointment offered to escort me to the train station, but I insisted I was fine.
I nearly fainted walking down the steps in New Street Station.
I vomited up the codeine into the train toilets before slumping back into my seat, knowing for certain that everyone around me knew I’d just had an abortion. My tongue tasted of bile and chicken nuggets.
I got off the train at Bournville and collapsed onto a platform bench, now gravely concerned that I would pass out and be groped by a stranger. If I rang for an ambulance, would they tell my mum what a hot mess her daughter was?
Hot sweat and the fear of bleeding out in public persuaded me to force my buckling legs off the platform and in the direction of a friend’s house, who I knew had been through this before. She took me in and plied me with rosé while I rocked back and forth on her sofa. I took sips of air and tried not to let my anxiety tell me that this amount of pain wasn’t normal; that I was dying.
I didn’t die, I had an abortion. And it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Pre-pandemic, an average of 28 women a week travelled from Northern Ireland to England seeking an abortion. The idea of making a phone call and receiving a packet of pills in the post feels revolutionary, and I wonder if, despite these new services being labelled as ‘temporary’ measures put in place only for the Covid-19 outbreak, there might actually be lasting changes made to make abortion more easily accessible for people in the UK.
If you are pregnant and unsure of the choices available to you, visit www.bpas.org where you can arrange to speak to a counsellor to discuss your options. Those past 10 weeks of pregnancy in need of abortion in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and other areas can visit www.asn.org.uk for advice.