Today’s blog post is more personal as I will be writing about my own experience and how I became pro-choice.
I remember the first time I heard about what an abortion was. I was in the car with my mum when I asked her what it was, I was around 12 or 13. She explained it was when a woman did not want to be pregnant, and terminated that pregnancy. Her explanation was very simple, however at the end she said to me that you should not ever judge someone else for making that choice, because you never know what their life and circumstances are like.
It was a very Atticus Finch-esque message to say to a young teenager, but it always stuck with me. From then, I suppose I would have identified as pro-choice, but I had no comprehension of the real world meaning to it, and how it applied to me being a young girl in Northern Ireland.
As I grew on in my teens, the Internet became a larger and larger part of my life.
I used tumblr, and became introduced to feminism through online forums and websites, initially through ALB, but also see: the everyday sexism project, everyday feminism and this speech by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. These ideas were never discussed in school, and were just revolutionary to me. I learned more and more about the injustices women faced in the world, including the battle for reproductive health. I realised how small things that seemed insignificant before, were actually entrenching oppression against women. Remembering what my mother told me, and seeing the impact restrictions to abortion access had on women, I began to fully support the idea that women should have full determination over their own bodies. Little did I know what was happening right on my own doorstep.
When I was 16, a friend of mine from school told me about a counter rally to an anti-choice march through Belfast. I didn’t quite understand why they were marching; didn’t they have exactly what they wanted? Abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland; we had a resolutely anti-choice assembly and law to go along.
I naively went along to the counter demonstration, without even telling my family I was going (I was worried they would disapprove), and the experience was a mixture of terrifying and exhilarating. It sounds mad, but I couldn’t wait for the next one.
I became more vocal with my opinions on abortion, and these views became harder to disguise from family, especially when I would invite friends around to make posters for rallies and marches that we would attend. My second rally was on International Decriminalise Abortion Day, and I remember people around school seeing photos of me from that rally.
Then a huge story, that rocked Ireland, broke; a 31-year-old woman, called Savita Halappanavar, died in a Galway hospital from sepsis due to an incomplete miscarriage.
A medical professional had told her she could not have an abortion, saying that Ireland is “a Catholic country”, where abortion is firmly against the law. This outraged the world, and galvanised the movement in the North and South of Ireland. No woman should die because of lack of abortion access, and it shocked me to think that this could happen to any woman, never mind a woman in a hospital in Ireland, where healthcare is extremely well developed.
I made it my mission to learn more and more about social justice surrounding abortion and the law here and in the Republic of Ireland. I tried attending rallies and marches where I could, and would often clash with people in my social circles who had a firmly opposing stance to my own.
When I started studying medicine in 2015, the first years had a ‘soapbox’ session; medical student societies would get up and had 5 minutes to convince you to join their club. Medical Students for Choice QUB got up to speak and I didn’t even need any convincing: I was sold. It was the one society I knew I wanted to be a part of. I joined and swiftly applied to be a first year rep, and the friends I made through MSFC have become my circle of close friends within the medical course; I even live with two of them. I ended up being the president of MSFC this year, and the opportunities I’ve gotten through the society have been wonderful. I’ve attended training with Catholics for Choice, been asked to do a videofor Reclaim the Agenda, and attended the biennial FIAPAC conference in Lisbon.
During first year, I struggled with my degree. I wasn’t sure if I was happy, and I felt that something was lacking. Being involved with Medical Students for Choice kept me going, it gave me a purpose and made me realise that I can do something very positive by being an advocate for pro-choice medical students and abortion education. It struck a chord when I met Jody Steinauer, the founder of MSFC, and she said Medical Students for Choice is for ‘keeping the cool people in medicine’. Not only is it a great opportunity to become an advocate, it’s a support network where you can meet people just like you, who share your values.
My views have also developed from when I was 12 and first found out what an abortion is. My belief, as a medical student, is that the only reason any woman should ever need for accessing an abortion is that she does not want to be pregnant. Women are so consistently denied equal opportunities and rights, and the denial of simple ideas like dignity and autonomy is just unacceptable in this day and age.
People reading this may be hesitant or unsure how to get involved, so here are some tips:
1. Our Facebook page MSFC QUB is always updated on our events. Come along to one, and speak to our committee members! We always welcome new members, including those who don’t study medicine. We believe in educating people about abortion, contraception and women’s reproductive health and rights in general.
2. Alliance for Choice hold monthly activist meetings, as well as events throughout the year. They comprise people from all parts of the community, who seek to further abortion attitudes, and law reform in Northern Ireland.