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20th Nov 2017

Women are not handmaids; we are not a source of babies to childless people

Taryn de Vere

It was a shocking exchange.

At a recent meeting of the 8th committee, Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick and Independent TD Mattie McGrath both suggested that adoption should be actively promoted as an alternative to abortion.

Their comments prompted TD Kate O’Connell to ask if we were moving into “a Handmaid’s Tale type situation” where women with crisis pregnancies would be:

“Detained, forced to become parents, and used as a source of supply of babies to childless people… I have to say that’s up there with the most shocking thing I have heard today and I hope to God no one forces me into that situation”.

Mr Fitzpatrick spent a considerable amount of his allocated question time on the issue of adoption. He wanted to know how much money had the Irish Family Planning Association spent on promoting adoption, and how many conferences they had organised on adoption.

Dr Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the Irish Family Planning Association, told the committee that only two percent of women attending their services with crisis pregnancies chose adoption and that there were specialised services available to women looking to have their child adopted.

Why Mr Fitzpatrick and Mr McGrath think women are unaware of adoption remains unclear. Perhaps they think women don’t read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch movies or listen to the stories of their mothers, aunts and grannies?

Women with a crisis pregnancy face two choices: to continue the pregnancy or to have an abortion. Those who choose to continue with a pregnancy then face further choices; their options are to parent the child or give the child up for adoption.

Lisa* from Limerick found out she was pregnant around the same time that her partner demonstrated abusive behaviour. Lisa says that she didn’t want to be tied to an abusive man for life and therefore an abortion was her only option.

“He would never have let me give a baby up for adoption, and I could not possibly have considered leaving a child in his care. Even had I somehow managed to have that baby and place it for adoption, he would have used its existence as an excuse to continue to harass and manipulate me.”

“He believes that I had a miscarriage, and I fear his reaction if he were to learn the truth.”

Lisa asked that her identity remain anonymous as she is still fearful of her ex-partner finding out that she had an abortion.

Siobhan, from Meath, had an abortion in 2009 for financial reasons. She says that she didn’t consider adoption as an option as her partner was adopted. Her partner says that “being adopted affected him as a teen” and that it caused him to have issues with substance abuse. He was, therefore, unable to consider adopting out a child of his own.

Siobhan already had two children at the time and under Irish laws, she would’ve had to have had herself legally declared an “unfit mother” in order to put a child up for adoption. That could result in her children being removed from her care.

Polly was 15 when she realised she was pregnant. Too scared to tell her family, she called Cura who told her to drop in a urine sample. A week after she left the urine sample in, they called and said she was pregnant. They asked her to come in for an appointment and offered a date that was over a week away. Polly says when she arrived at the clinic, she was greeted by a man and a woman.

“There were religious icons around the place and Cura leaflets. They spoke about what I wanted to do and I cried and said I can’t tell my mother I’m pregnant”.

They then gave Polly a lot of incorrect and distressing information.

“They informed me that some people choose to have a thing called an abortion which was an awful procedure which killed the baby and ripped it apart. They said that women can die during abortions and it’s illegal and you could be thrown in prison for it.

“They spoke about the grave dangers of the procedure and how some women can get cancer and die after abortions. And how many can bleed to death or be left paralyzed or needing hysterectomies and never able to have any more babies. And suggested that many women blame themselves then and think this is a punishment from God”.

Polly then returned alone to her home and decided to try and end the pregnancy herself.

“I spent hours hitting myself in the stomach with heavy encyclopedias and having hot baths. I even drank gin having heard old wives tales in books and films over the years. I begged my friend’s fella to kick the shit out of me but he couldn’t. I threw myself downstairs when no one was in the house”.

Despite her efforts, Polly remained pregnant and eventually, she had to confide in her parents. The pregnancy was so far on that her parents told her not to tell anyone and said that she would have to have her baby adopted. They arranged for Polly to speak to the Adoption Board.

Polly says she had accepted that she couldn’t end the pregnancy then and that she did not want to put her baby up for adoption.

“I knew from the get-go I wasn’t giving my baby away. But I wanted my family to love me again and just wanted it to all be over. I knew I would go insane, wondering for the rest of my days where is my baby? What are they doing? What do they look like? Have they my hair? Even at 15, I knew I would end up losing my mind.”

When she spoke to the Adoption Board they told her that her baby would be better off with a married couple.

“The adoption board were kind of a bit sneaky and said there were lovely married couples who can’t have babies would make a better home for this baby.”

Kate O’Connell TD

Polly put off calling the Adoption Board to tell them she wasn’t going to go ahead with adoption. She says they asked that if she changed her mind to call them as some couples “were going to be very disappointed”.

Polly suffered from awful guilt at the thought of the prospective adoptive parents but ultimately, there was no way she could give up her child.

“I knew as strongly then as I do now that my crisis pregnancy was exactly that: mine. It was not for me to force myself into an eternity of misery and depression and horror wondering where my baby was, it was not my responsibility to solve the issues of those who couldn’t conceive. I knew I would regret the adoption forever, for eternity and I would never have been the same again.

“I knew that as surely as I know my name. I don’t suffer with mental health issues but I know I would have if I’d given her away. Irish women already know about adoption. We know it is sometimes right for us but that more often it is messy, complicated, heartbreaking and possibly devastating.

It would be unprofessional and unethical for crisis pregnancy counsellors to try and push women into a particular course of action.

As a nation, we’re only 20 years past the era of forced pregnancies and forced adoptions… and it is chilling that male politicians are now attempting to influence the extremely personal decisions of women with crisis pregnancies.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity.