Jenni's Story
My abortion - in Portugal it is illegal

Well where do I begin to tell my story. I'm not very good at putting words on paper but I would like to tell my story, hoping it will bring some comfort to other women and help them make a decision.

Let me tell you about myself. I am 29 years old, single, living with my partner of 5 years. I live on a small island called Madeira Island off the coast of Morocco, Africa. We are part of Portugal. In Europe, the only countries where abortion is still illegal is Portugal and Ireland. I am a professional, university graduate working in a multinational company with good career prospects. I also am an entrepreneur, building up a small stationary store. My partner is 29 and self employed. Besides his trade, he recently opened a coffee bar. So basically we have been busy working on our careers, businesses, improving our financial status and enjoying the company of each other.

Since I can remember I have never really wanted to give birth to a child. I have always wished to adopt, with the hope of providing a child with a better life. But to actually have my own biological children, I have never felt the need. My partner would like to become a father but only in a minimum of 5 years... so we'll cross that bridge when we get there. At my work place there are some of my colleagues who are trying to fall pregnant and are having difficulties. We have often discussed what would happen if one of us fell pregnant and I always maintained that I would have an abortion if I fell pregnant. However, the reality of possibly falling pregnant was very distant to me as I was using the IUD contraceptive method and felt I was safe.

Living on a small island, the information flow is often not the best. One of my foreign colleagues was horrified when she heard I had the IUD now for 3 years and suggested I see a doctor, not my own because women who had never had children and used the IUD were in danger of having complications such as infertility. So I booked to see the doctor in September 10th 1999. My menstruation had finished on September 03 1999. I could not make the appointment and went to see her on September 17th. She was horrified to hear that I was using the IUD and warned me against the complications. I decided to remove it that day. She did so and gave me some antibiotics. My period, which is very regular, was due around September 24th. I noticed spotting and my breasts swelling but thought this was usual of signs of my period coming. After having removed the IUD, my partner and I used condoms, waiting for me to be able to start taking the pill as soon as my period started.

A week went past and my period did not arrive. I started to kind of panic and started joking with some close friends that I might be pregnant. On Monday October 4th 1999, I was talking about it to my work colleague who has been trying to fall pregnant for over a year. I told her that in my lunch hour I would get a pregnancy test and do it. I got the test went back to work and did it in the bathroom. The result was immediate - POSITIVE. I went into shock, this could not be, how could it happen to me... I started to panic... what was I going to do... I didn't want it... out, out, out I beat my stomach. When I came out my colleague saw straight away, by the look on my face, that the result was positive.

I phoned my partner immediately and told him. He, at first, thought I was joking but then realized I was serious. I told him immediately that I wanted an abortion... but HOW??? it is ILLEGAL in Portugal. I started to worry. For the rest of the day I could not concentrate. I phoned my best friend who said she would ask her work colleague if he knew of a doctor willing to perform an abortion as we didn't. He contacted his sister and she gave him a number of a doctor her in Madeira. But my gut feeling was that of nausea (and it was not from the pregnancy). How could I trust a local doctor? I did not know him. How would I approach the subject with him if it is illegal here? Would I have to beg? Would it be done properly? Was he trained properly to do it? The statistics in Portugal are horrific of post abortion complications done by incompetent doctors. What would happen if there were complications? Where would I go... at the hospital people know me? Would I be prosecuted for having had one?

I was stressing out and could not think straight. All I wanted was to remove what was growing inside of me. I was not interested in the so called moral aspect of this very Catholic and hypocritical society that I live in. Knowing myself, I knew that if I had to have the child it would suffer psychologically because he/she would not have been wanted in the first place, and I would have difficulties overcoming that barrier, and most importantly I was not at all ready emotionally or financially to become a mother. If I one day do become a mother I hope to give them the best, and now that I am in a position to do so.

To continue my story, I got home that night and discussed it with my partner. We agreed that abortion was the only way but HOW? I went onto the Internet and desperately emailed various organizations and people in Europe. All advised me not to seek an illegal abortion in Madeira. Through an anonymous pro abortion site in Portugal I found the contact number and address of an abortion clinic on the border of Portugal and Spain. The next day I phoned them in the morning. By this stage I had done 4 pregnancy tests in desperation and all were positive. The woman from the clinic was fantastic. She booked me for the Friday at 10 am I requested leave for Friday. Only 2 people at work knew and a couple of friends. None of our family members knew as they are anti abortion.

On Thursday night we flew out by plane from Madeira to the capital Lisbon, a 90 minute flight. From there we hired a car and drove for 3 hours to Spain (about 260 kms). We arrived there Friday morning at 5 am. My partner and I checked into a hotel and tried to sleep for 3 hours. At 9:30 am I was at the clinic. The staff were fantastic. There were women there of all ages and social backgrounds but because I had come from so far I was attended to immediately. I did a scan which revealed I was 4 and half weeks pregnant (so I got pregnant while I still had the IUD - how the other doctor who removed it did not see this I don't know). I then did blood tests, spoke to a psychiatrist and social worker. The procedure was done under local anesthesia. In one hour it was over.

After the abortion I felt light headed and a little weak, but RELIEVED and OVERJOYED. Although I experienced slight, prolonged discomfort, the fact that I was no longer pregnant overcame the pain and weakness. I rested for a while and then was taken into a consultation room and given my medication and antibiotics. My partner throughout this was FANTASTIC, suspending his own concerns to be with me emotionally and physically.

After we left the clinic we went to eat and drove back to Portugal... 3 hours... that night we flew back to Madeira Island. Exhausted but relieved. The next morning it was like a cloud had lifted off my head... I was no longer stressed and worried. My recovery has been slow and steady. I have taken all the precautions that I was advised to, together with my medication and have experienced no post abortion problems. However, it was costly in that the cost was not only for the abortion but also 2 aeroplane tickets, hotel stay and car rental.

I hope to never have to go through this again, not because of a moral stand or guilt but because of the sheer exhaustion, financially, physically, and emotionally of getting to the clinic in Spain. This raises questions of Portugal's position. Thousands of women have unwanted pregnancies yearly, are forced into unhappy marriages because the are pregnant. Most can not afford to do what I did... by going to Spain. So they land up having back-street abortions with all the consequences, or having to have unwanted children.

Pro Lifers often go on about the sanctity of life but what about the QUALITY OF LIFE that those unwanted children will have for the rest of their lives. Is it not better to have a good start by actually being wanted. Furthermore, I believe abortion is a personal choice, and no one should be condemned. Each woman knows what she is feeling inside and what is best for her. Allow the facilities to be available with the necessary care and services.

Hopefully Portugal and its people will change and become more tolerant and supportive of people and less rigid in their Catholic dogmatism. I hope my story brings some support to women out there. I have literally been given my spirit and life back. I have no regrets.

23 October 1999

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