'I needed fixing...' Why my parents forced me to have an abortion aged 17 2 years ago

'I needed fixing...' Why my parents forced me to have an abortion aged 17

Ciara [not her real name] is from Donegal and was 17 when she discovered she was pregnant.

She grew up in a typical Irish family. "I was raised as a Catholic. Our parents wanted the best for us, their four children."

The family's life was altered forever when Ciara’s older sister became pregnant - out of wedlock and aged just 19. The people in the small town Ciara lived in began to ostracise the family.

"Our friends' parents thought that their kids might 'catch a dose of pregnancy' if they stayed in our house. This stripped me and my sister of our friends."

A few years later Ciara became pregnant herself, aged 17.

"I knew what was happening to my body but I was  naive. I was so sick one day and my mum realised what was going on. I was instructed to take the next day off work and head up to a group of nuns in Letterkenny.

"My mother told me to ask them about my options. When they told me I was pregnant I wailed with all my might and told them that I wouldn’t be allowed to keep my baby... That I had been instructed to ask about having an abortion.

"A nun told me the amount of money I would get as a single parent and that I could stay with them."

Ciara’s mother wanted her to have an abortion and her parents' reactions caused Ciara to consider taking her own life.

“Mum was furious with the nuns and phoned them to give them a piece of her mind. She told my dad that I was pregnant. I felt awful that I’d let them down so badly.

"But dad was quite gentle with me and explained that when something was broken it needed fixing. I’d broke myself and I needed fixing.”

Despite her family’s objections Ciara wanted to remain pregnant and keep the baby.

“I’d picked names and dreamt about motherhood. My parents couldn’t handle another teen pregnancy in the family and they wanted me to go to college.

"They were embarrassed and I think they thought it was best for me. They thought a child would hold me back.”

Ciara’s mother made arrangements and mother and daughter travelled to England together.

"My mum collected me from the clinic, where I’d spent the night crying. I felt so utterly weak for doing it. The whole 'honour your mother and father' Catholic thing brought me through it... but I went through hell.

"The reason I went through with the abortion was because I was brought up as a Catholic. Afterwards I felt like shit. There were no support structures in Ireland for me when I returned.”

Ciara struggled with the consequences of being forced to undergo the procedure.

“I was a bit messed up after it. There was a little baby crying on the flight back and I was sobbing my heart out. Eventually mum arranged for me to speak to a counsellor. This woman told me to cop on, I couldn’t change the past."

And yet despite what happened to her, Ciara remains firmly pro-choice: she believes that no one should have the right to dictate what happens in and to someone else’s body.

"As someone who works as a healthcare worker, it annoys me off when a person’s decisions are removed from them. Family are often given power over the young/old in their family. I would prefer all women to have autonomy over their bodies."

Ciara has spoken to her friends about her abortion and has since supported some of them in making the decision to access abortion healthcare. She also realised that having had an abortion was much more common than she previously thought.

© Renee Summers

“When I became honest about having an abortion to friends and family, a lot of them told me that they’d been through it too.

"A lot of women asked for my help when they had decided it was what they wanted. I’ve helped women book their bodily autonomy and I’ve felt I could be utterly supportive in their decision."

Ciara is one of the 170,000 women who have travelled to the UK since 1980 to access an abortion. Ciara believes if there was more support and less stigma for lone parents in Ireland that some people would choose to continue with their pregnancies and there would be less reproductive coercion.

Aside from her professional work, Ciara now campaigns for repeal of the 8th amendment. Her name was changed to protect her anonymity.