One year after its enforcement abortion is still a struggle for Irish women

Woman and child join the campaign for abortion rights. Photo by Thiago Rebouças

If abortion is legalised in Ireland since May 2018, the situation for pregnant women is still ambiguous. Between harassment from anti-abortion activists and ‘pro-life’s’ movement dissimulated in ‘non-directive counselling agencies’, it is a tough task to respect the 12 weeks delay imposed by the law to abort on the island. To discover the importance of this phenomenon an undercovered interview has been conducted in one of the most important agencies of Dublin.

During the months that followed the application of the law, at the beginning of 2019, ‘pro-life”s militants and other anti-abortion activists, protested in front of clinics providing abortions and were used to target women and doctors on the car park of these medical centres.

In February 2019, The Times published an undercovered investigation relating that the people who targeted the clinics were part of an American organisation, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, trying to develop its organisation in Europe. The article showed that this movement planned to target Irish women who desired a termination, and revealed that it was working with an “unregulated crisis pregnancy agency” named GiannaCare.

At the time, the activities of the two groups were condemned by the minister of Health, Simon Harris, and for now, Sidewalk Advocates for Life is no longer active in Ireland.

If this affair appears as a victory for women’s rights and investigative journalism, GiannaCare is still open on Dorset Street, Dublin; in the same building that The Times described as the “formation centre” for anti-abortion activists.

One year after The Times’ article, verifying the activities of this group is necessary for a country where women should be able to make their own decisions without being influenced by activists from any sides, as the law provides it.

What GiannaCare’s about?

GiannaCare’s website is not mentioning any links with anti-abortion campaigners and describes the organisation as support for pregnant women without specifying explicitly their anti-abortion position, “Gianna Care is a non-profit organisation, committed to providing a comprehensive range of services, underpinned by compassion, to anyone facing an unexpected pregnancy or in need following an abortion”.

To understand what the organisation was really about it needed more than a quick review of its website, although this last one was very informative on the way GiannaCare tries to not explicitly say or write what their position over abortion is, preferring quoting unreferenced testimonies.

Even if the volunteers of the group seems to work for pregnant women and young mother, which is a good thing that will not be questioned, another aspect of their activities is quite questionable and needed to be verified.

“Post-Abortion syndrome is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The process of making an abortion choice, experiencing the procedure and living with the grief, pain and regret can be very traumatic.”

Many sections of the website presents quotations without names or references,

“I remember before being called into the procedure room. I was told to empty my bladder and in the toilet I said goodbye knowing they were my last few moments with my baby.”


If their website is full of testimonies and references to the bad effects of the medical termination, that can easily discourage or be frightening for anyone thinking about it, one of their main activity is only described in a few words, “COUNSELLING: We can provide Non-Directive Counselling with a qualified counselling psychotherapist”.

To ensure that GiannaCare is no longer acting against abortion but is only helping pregnant women in needs, who desire to keep their child, an undercovered interview has been realised. Pretending that a couple of two students aged by 22 and 20 discovered that they were expecting and envisaged the possibility of abortion the appointment was settled online through the “chat” platform of their website and planned for the next couple of days.

Behind “non-directive counselling”

To respect the volunteers and people working on this organisation their identity will not be revealed, the aim of this article is not to blame individuals but to reveal the abusive situation that pregnant women can face in Ireland.

“Welcome, can I take your coat? First of all, follow me we need to make sure you are pregnant”, said one of the two volunteers in the room, plastic pot in one hand and medical gloves on the other one. After explaining that it was the normal procedure and a few minutes of negotiations this idea was avoided for the sake of the investigation without alerting the two ladies.

Sited comfortably on large couches the interview can start. The two volunteers appear very kind, trying to create a peaceful atmosphere. The first questions are basics and concern the ‘technical’ aspects of the pregnancy, “When did you discover it?”, “When were your last periods?”…

The possibility of an eventual abortion is not evocated for the moment and the two volunteers are simply explaining what support they are offering to mothers and families in need. “We can provide anything you need, from financial support to baby equipment and also emotional help.” The same discourse available on the website with different words but without any more details.

After five minutes of discussion, the termination is finally put forward as a possibility, which has completely changed the approach of the volunteers. The appointment was not anymore about helping and counselling but convincing a young couple to keep an unwanted child.

“I have to tell you that we do not provide abortions, and we can’t redirect you to people that will help you to, you have to do it by yourselves”, said one of them with a grave tone. Even if their website is mentioning a “non-judgmental approach”, the interview started slowly to looks like a course on the negative effects abortion can have on women and couple life.

“Most of the time abortion is a trigger for women, you should think about it,” said solemnly a volunteer. “What would your family think? what about you?”, the questions were very specific as if the ladies were trying to figure out how to have an emotional impact in a very efficient way: “Your mom had you young, she is the perfect example and I am sure that she doesn’t regret such a beautiful child.”

“Giving birth is natural abortion is not, think about the pain you will feel when somoeone will ask you if you have children, I had many girls that regrets their abortions now.”

One of the main reason women aborted, according to their discourses, was because of the lack of support, which is certainly true, but this assumption was used as a way to show that without their support it will be a struggle to abort meanwhile keeping the child will be a very beautiful accomplishment.

After 30 minutes of arguments and questioning, the two members were capable to ask very powerful and efficient questions to understand eventual fears or emotions regarding pregnancy termination and use it to discourage their audience: “If you are afraid about giving birth the pain of an abortion can be much more violent, physically and emotionally.”

The use of testimonies and little stories about women that succeeded in their lives toward those who aborted and now “regrets for the rest of their life” can be very disruptive for women hesitating on the choice they should make.

All these tactics seem very professional and if nothing attests on their website that the volunteers conducting the interviews are trained to make women change their mind about abortion it was clear that it was what the two ladies tried to do during 45 minutes.

 

GiannaCare is not the only organisation proposing these kinds of services in Ireland, an unfair situation toward women in needs. Because presented as a structure to help all pregnant women and not only those who already made the choice of keeping the child, this organisation is acting against the will of women that came to be concealed and not oriented.

This situation represents an ethical issue. According to a study published by the minister of Children and Youth Affair, conducted during a decade and published in 2018, Irish single pregnant women are discovering their pregnancy after 7 weeks and obtain a first appointment at the 10th week, 12% of them are having an appointment in a private clinic without a link to the regular health system, such as GiannaCare.

These women deserved to have the same access to information regarding their possibilities but organisations such as GiannaCare are stopping the democratic process by giving biased information and manipulating people’s feelings.

After this interview, it appears clear that if a woman obtains her first appointment at GiannaCare after 10 weeks of pregnancy she won’t be able to abort event if she wants to because of 12weeks delays imposed by the law and the discourse of the volunteers.

To avoid such an unregulated situation, these clinics should be obligated to clearly specify their point of view and position toward abortion to let the choice to the patients and to redirect women to clinics where termination is provided.

 

Special Thanks to Héloïse Vinale for her participation and help on this work.