Disability and I: Alannah Murray

I sit in my cell

Waiting to see if I shall be


Months of war becomes a

Sickening, deafening


The silent shadows of weary travellers

Creep up my cell at night having

Seen their own


I am lead now to the gallows, and a


Is drawn around my neck.

May 25th has arrived. So, what have you decided, Executioner?

Silence; or salvation?

That’s a poem I wrote in the notes of my phone, listening to a debate on the 8th amendment on the radio on my way home from college. I remember listening, and realizing in that moment how high the stakes were. I remember feeling that I already knew, of course. I’ve been campaigning for months, and I have lived in my body for 21 years knowing what was expected of it. A body to house a husband, to mother a child. People’s expectations changed when I became wheelchair bound, I think. Maybe that’s my assumption. Maybe it’s an assumption I’ve made because of my own hang ups. I wasn’t expected to be the mother figure any more, I can bet my life on that much. Still, why is that? And why does that matter? It matters because I still feel the stranglehold that the 8th has on this country, despite people’s expectations. I am scared of May 25, sitting at home and frantically checking the figures. Knowing that my future is in someone else’s hands, as much as it is in my own. I am relying on others, but that’s nothing new. The model of disability in Ireland means I’m forced to plan my life around other people’s schedules.

Allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Alannah Murray, and I’m a 21-year-old student. I’ve been sick since I was 5, full time wheelchair user since the age of 10/11. My life changed when I got sick, because it became other people’s life too. My body was there to be studied and tested because of my rare condition, and medical students were always particularly grateful for it. I was always happy to help. I was the reason my parents learned how to navigate the health system, because they had no choice but to fight for every service I needed. My body had a purpose. It was political as I got older, as disabled bodies tend to often be. It’s a vessel for change. Vessel. That’s a word that we hear quite a lot, and not in a positive way. I understand why. There is nothing fulfilling about feeling like you are nothing but a means to an end. That is how the pregnant people of this country are being forced to feel; and I say it’s about time we say enough.

Disabled people experience crisis pregnancies. Which means, despite the expectations of others, we still need health care. Shock, right? But this country is a minefield for disabled people both in law and in rights. We have to fight to be recognized as equal citizens no matter what we want to do; particularly if we want to have sex. There are also a unique set of challenges that come with the prospect of travelling for disabled people, I’m going to look at wheelchair users specifically because it’s the only area I have enough experience of to talk about. Let’s start with the logistics of getting around Ireland to show how fun it is. For a bus, you must book it in advance of about 48 hours to be safe. The same as a train. You are also highly unlikely to find a taxi that will take your chair and even if you do, it will be more expensive than an able-bodied taxi. Disabled people in this country are experiencing higher levels of poverty, and their services remain limited. That is just internal, staying within the country before you even consider travelling for an abortion. Let’s look at that next.

In order to travel, you have to give advanced notice of travelling. You will also probably have to bring someone along with you, whether that is a PA or even a friend or family member. You need to check hotel access, and you’re highly unlikely to find a cheap enough hotel who has thought of access as a priority. You need to learn the transport system, and thoroughly investigate whether that system is accessible. Currency needs to be converted. Appointments need to be made. The main thing that ties this all together is other people. You are relying on others the whole way. You cannot decide yourself to have a termination and do so privately if that’s how you choose to handle it. Someone else will always have to know.

What happens then if a bus lets you down, you miss your flight? Something consistently goes wrong with transport regarding disability somewhere along the line, in my experience. Even if you do manage to get everything in order, one misstep by someone else means that your life is thrown into chaos. Maybe you spent a big chunk of your savings on paying for an abortion, which now puts you in even worse financial difficulty than you were in before you found out you were pregnant. They’re not cheap, after all, despite the claims that they could be used as contraception. People are frequently outraged by the price of contraceptives, and the morning after pill – I smell flawed logic. What if there is no PA available to travel with you? Or the system is inaccessible? Then there are the likes of ISL/BSL. Imagine having to go for an abortion where nobody can understand you? Where you can’t understand anyone?

Pregnant people should not have to travel to another country to access healthcare no matter what their circumstances. It is barbaric, archaic and this culture of exportation we have with the people who live here is disgusting. When you look at it from a disabled point of view though, it may very well be the case that some people simply cannot travel. There is an array of factors that can go wrong that puts our healthcare in the hands of others. Our bodily autonomy continues to be comprised. There’s so much more to think about, which adds another layer onto the complex layered cake of emotion that goes through people’s heads when they decide to seek a termination.

That is why it feels like waiting for execution day. Because you’re waiting to see if you’re going to be punished, despite knowing that you’re innocent. Abortions will happen in this country from the time this article is posted, to long after it’s forgotten. People will still travel if this referendum does not pass. A no vote will not stop Irish people experiencing crisis pregnancies having terminations; it will just put their lives at risk when they choose to do so.  

All I can do is encourage you to Vote Yes. Even if it’s not for yourself, do it for the people who need your Yes. We’re counting on you.

1 Comment

  1. Had an argument with a very anti-choice colleague just now who said something like ‘I’m sick of hearing that crap about them having to go to Liverpool. Boo-hoo, the flight is half an hour!”. Apart from everything else that’s wrong with that, I didn’t think to bring up travellers with disabilities. So thank you for this piece.
    Fingers crossed today x


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