Irish women open up about abortion ahead of referendum

By Emily G Roe

DUBLIN (Reuters) - When posters with the words 'License To Kill' were put up in her neighborhood in advance of Ireland's referendum on abortion, Amy Callahan decided to share the story of traveling to Britain to terminate her pregnancy.

Callahan, 35, and her partner Connor Upton were told 12 weeks into her pregnancy that the fetus had anencephaly, a rare condition that prevents the normal development of the brain. It meant the baby, who would have been their second child, would most likely die in utero or live for a matter of minutes.

In Ireland, where abortions are permitted only when the mother's life is in danger, the couple could either wait until their baby's heart stopped beating or go to Britain for an abortion, as more than 3,000 Irish women do each year.

"I know that birth is not easy on a baby and the head is such an important part. I started to think about what would be the kindest thing that we could do and I didn't think it was a pregnancy we were going to continue," Callahan said in an interview in her home in North Dublin.

Callahan and her husband told few people about that trip nearly a year ago.

But with a vote on whether to liberalize Ireland's abortion regime due on May 25, she and scores of other women are sharing their stories on both sides of the issue on social media, at campaign launches and through media interviews.

Some women who are against the change have talked about how much they valued the short time they had with babies who had little or no chance of survival.

Vicky Wall, a 41-year-old anti-abortion activist campaigning in the southern rural market town of Nenagh, told Reuters her doctor brought up the option of abortion when her unborn baby was diagnosed with Edwards' syndrome, a genetic disorder.

"What the doctor actually said was 'you can pop to England', which was horrific," she said. She carried the baby to full term, instead.

"My baby was born at 32 weeks, then she died. I got to take her home, spend time with her," she said.

The referendum - which would repeal a 1983 amendment to the constitution - is the first opportunity in 35 years to overhaul one of the world's strictest abortion regimes in the once deeply Catholic country. A complete ban was lifted only five years ago.

Polls show those in favor of change with a strong lead but one in five are still undecided.

Callahan recalled her grief and exhaustion in the two weeks ahead of their appointment at the clinic in Liverpool.

She wondered how she would have explained things to her son, then one-and-a-half, had she carried the baby to full term, and how she would have responded to friends and colleagues when they asked about the progress of her pregnancy and when she was due.

"It felt like we were abandoned by this country," Callahan said. "We weren't looked after here, we weren't received with compassion at such a difficult time.

The referendum will mark almost a year to the day that Callahan and Upton returned to Dublin on May 23 with the ashes of their daughter, Nico, in their hand luggage.

"The worst thing has already happened to us," said Callahan. "Whether this referendum passes or not, it's not the worst thing for us, it's about the worst thing for the next person and it needs to be changed."

(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Nenagh; Writing by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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