October 26, 2019
At 7am on 22 October 2019, my morning alarm sounded. But rather than the Groundhog Day feeling many of us feel most mundane Tuesdays, I and many other people throughout Northern Ireland felt a little different.
I Had To Travel For An Abortion. Im Relieved Northern Irish Women Like Me Will No Longer Have To Do The Same
Why? Because at the stroke of midnight the night before, both same sex marriage and the decriminalisation of abortion finally became a long overdue reality in this part of the world. Despite the political theatrics of the DUP and others in their futile attempts to deny us the rights based society we so richly deserve in Northern Ireland, decades of campaigning on these two issues finally paid off, to some extent at least. 
What a difference a day makes. And as someone who has worked alongside others in providing advice and assisting women in accessing so called ‘illegal’ safe abortions, it was also somewhat surreal that less than 24 hours before, both I and the women I have helped, could have faced a life sentence in prison for doing what one in three women do in their lifetime: have an abortion.
It isn’t ‘criminal’ nor is it an ‘abomination’ or anything like the anti-choice hyperbolic fervour that those of us who were at Stormont on 21 October were subjected to. It is a routine medical procedure that is carried out every day across the world and should always be a ‘choice’. I know that first-hand.
Six years ago at the age of 41, I discovered I was pregnant. After careful consideration of every aspect of my life – my relationship, my previous relationships, my family, my finances, my health, my job and my personhood, I came to the decision I needed an abortion. I say ‘need’ because that’s how it was – I wasn’t that I wanted an abortion, I needed an abortion.I managed to put the cost on my credit cards, all the while wondering what women in much worse financial circumstances did in similar situationsSo I set about the isolating and difficult task of ending the pregnancy. I have always been pro-choice, but until that time, I had no idea of the barriers women in Northern Ireland faced when trying to exercise what should be the fundamental right to their bodily autonomy. Initially I considered ways to access an abortion myself, but with an overbearing wave of stigma coupled with the fear of prosecution, I decided travelling to England was my only option.  
Having navigated an almost underground system with invaluable help from a charity, the Family Planning Association (now known as Informing Choices), I eventually managed to arrange an abortion in Belfast. There, I encountered the so called ‘pro-life’ protesters for the first time, who engaged me on my exit from the building propagating, as they do, the most baseless and emotionally exploitative statements to dissuade me from my decision. Even as a determined woman unafraid to challenge this abuse, I found it hugely upsetting.
Being forced to travel to the UK to access abortion services was an expensive business. Like most people I didn’t have a spare £900, but I needed to find it. I managed to put the cost on my credit cards, all the while wondering what women in much worse financial circumstances did in similar situations. 
Several weeks later I travelled to Manchester for an abortion. I opted for a surgical abortion under general anaesthetic and travelled in one day to keep the cost down and to get the travel over and done with on the same day. The procedure itself was straightforward, and the care I received from the staff in the clinic was friendly and professional. They were sensitive, caring and understanding.
The reason I say that is because it really took me by surprise that they were. I made the geographical and emotional journey drenched in stigma and with all the emotional baggage that Northern Irish society imposes on women who choose to end their pregnancies. I suppose I expected the staff at the clinic to be much the same and wag their finger or treat me disapprovingly. It was alien to me that they didn’t and a huge relief. The benefit of hindsight is both infallible and impossible, but when I look back, it is hard to believe I should have expected anything other than professional, non judgmental care. It is what all women and pregnant people should expect in these circumstances. I have never regretted my abortion for a single minute, not one. What I do regret is the fact that I was forced to travel in secrecy and shameUnfortunately, on my return trip, a reaction to the anaesthetic left me quite ill at the airport. I waited hours in the airport vomiting profusely, cramping, hoping that no one would notice and I would be well enough to fly.
When I did eventually board I noticed a woman with an Irish accent, who had attended the same Manchester clinic that day and was even in the bed adjacent to mine. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we looked away without acknowledging each other – because of the stigma, I suppose, we both thought that the day’s proceedings were better left unacknowledged.
I have never regretted my abortion for a single minute. What I do regret is the fact that I was forced to travel in secrecy and shame and made to feel like a ‘thing’, not a person. When I finally reached home late that night, I was so very relieved but incredibly angry that I was forced to do all this for a medical procedure that should be available to me at home in a free, safe and legal environment. 
I am not unique. I’m one of an estimated 62,000 women who have travelled. And that’s not to mention those who have chosen to access abortion by other means, such as online abortion pills taken at home. 
That’s why I simply could not accept that at least two women just like me each day have to make that journey in secrecy. I couldn’t accept that mothers, daughters (my own included), sisters, aunts, wives, partners, friends and anyone who wanted to access abortion care, would be forced in to this situation. 
The upside to my experience was that it was a catalyst. I became involved with Alliance for Choice soon after, and since have worked alongside incredible activists from all walks of life to bring us where we are now.
My abortion experience was most certainly a formative one and if I can distil it down to one sentence it would be this – I am not ashamed and I don’t want anyone else to be.  
Naomi Connor is co-convenor of Alliance for Choice
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