Northern Ireland

Abortion: Northern Ireland surgeon talks of termination after 15 years

Dr Eunice Minford
Image caption Dr Eunice Minford became pregnant when she was studying in England in 2001

Abortion is a divisive issue in Northern Ireland, and in a two-part series I speak to two women who made very different decisions about their pregnancies.

In part one, a County Antrim surgeon decides to go public after 15 years of keeping her abortion a secret.

Doctor Eunice Minford said women who choose to have an abortion should not have to be diagnosed as being mentally ill in order for a termination to take place.

She said she was breaking her silence as she could no longer tolerate women who have had terminations being made to feel that they are hiding "some kind of dirty little secret".

Dr Minford had an abortion in 2001.

She said she hoped that by speaking up it would inspire others to do the same and "claim what is true for them".

Image caption Dr Minford says her unexpected pregnancy was became a "dirty little secret"

"To show we don't have to hang our heads in shame; we can walk tall and know that we make a true choice that was right for us at the time we had the abortion," she added.

Dr Minford became pregnant when she was studying for her final surgical exams in England in 2001.

Secret

Aged 35, she said discovering she was pregnant was her worst nightmare come true.

"I was hard on myself," she said. "I beat myself up.

"I judged myself even more so because I am a doctor and doctors are supposed to know better - we aren't supposed to make mistakes.

"There was very little compassion for myself at the time.

"This became, as it did for many others, their dirty little secret that they can't feel they can tell people about.

"I told my partner at the time and one other person and it was like that for years."

Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Image caption Each women is a "world expert on our own life", Dr Minford says

Dr Minford said it was wrong and unacceptable that women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant have to be examined by a psychiatrist with a risk of being diagnosed with a mental health problem before they can access abortion services.

"We do not have to be deemed mentally ill in order to make that decision," she said.

"Again this is part of the patriarchal supremacy and the domination of a woman that we have tended to submit to."

Truth

She said women had to stand up and say "no, this is not acceptable - we know our own bodies, our own minds".

"We are the world expert on our own life and we are capable of making that choice without needing those assessments and being deemed mentally unwell."

I asked how she was able to marry her conviction that women should be allowed to choose to abort a foetus, with her role as a doctor who often saves lives.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Abortion is only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman's life or mental and physical health is at risk

"Yes, I work in the health service helping people, but what motivates me is my love of God, of helping people and the truth," she said.

Dr Minford is planning to publish a blog about her abortion experience, and she hopes it will both help and inform others.

During the interview, she recalled the fear instilled in young women in Northern Ireland about becoming pregnant while unmarried.

"I don't believe any young girl or woman grows up thinking: 'Oh, when I grow up I'm going to have an abortion', or that she wants to have an abortion," she said.

"It is not something we desire or aspire to or plan.

"I did not consider myself that sort of person who has an unplanned pregnancy."

Compassion

Northern Ireland's abortion debate has stepped up a gear.

The recent suspended sentence given to a young woman who bought abortion pills online has thrown the issue back onto the news agenda.

Image caption Dr Minford hopes her blog about her abortion will help to inform people

Dr Minford described herself as being like a closed book.

But she said she was so passionate about informing the debate that she was prepared to risk her reputation.

"There is very much pro-life and pro-choice," she said.

"It becomes them and us and who is right and who is wrong.

"But at the end of the day there is no them and us - there is only us and I feel we need to develop more understanding and compassion for women and where they are at.

"We are only human."

Dr Minford is keen to stress that these are her personal views and should not be related to her role in the health service.

On Thursday I will hear from Gemma Bradley, who made a very different decision about her pregnancy.

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