Fighting stigma, Irish abortion campaigner tells her story

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Dublin (AFP)

Like many women affected by Ireland's abortion ban, Fabiana Mizzoni is campaigning for its repeal in a referendum to be held Friday by telling her own story.

The 27-year-old, who had an abortion nearly 10 years ago, said Ireland has been "turning a blind eye" to the uncomfortable issue, but could do so no longer.

"Saying abortions should be illegal doesn't stop them, it just stops safe abortions," she told AFP in a recent interview.

Mizzoni was still at school when she became pregnant, saying she didn't feel able to tell her friends.

"Because all of us went to Catholic schools we were told really awful things about women getting pregnant unexpectedly," she said.

Her mother and father, who is an Italian immigrant, encouraged her to make her own decision, but it was kept a secret from everyone else, including her three sisters.

They only found out years later, telling their sister that they were "heartbroken" and "angry" about not being able to provide support at the time.

The Dublin native recalled the climate of fear around her trip to Britain to undergo the procedure, describing how all phone calls to the clinic were made "from Mum's car, in car parks", and how she had to invent a story of going to visit her grandmother.

"I was getting paranoid and I was afraid there were loopholes in my story, it was all a blur," she said, recalling the relief when the procedure was over.

"Even though I knew it was right for me, it's coupled with feeling shame."

Abortion has long been a taboo in Ireland and has been outlawed by its constitution for 35 years, except for cases in which the life of the mother is in danger.

- Campaign 'getting ugly' -

Mizzoni has in recent years campaigned to overturn the constitutional ban, believing that it ignores reality.

She said the effect of the ban "only really hit me" when she underwent the procedure in Liverpool, a city in northwest England easily reached from Ireland.

"The nurses are so kind to Irish women because they see us every single day."

She went public with her story two years ago, saying it was "time to speak on behalf of people that can't speak", citing women with disabilities, immigrants and those without the financial means to travel.

Mizzoni, who believed she was too young to be a mother when she became pregnant, sees personal stories like her own as a way of tackling and demystifying a subject "shrouded in secrecy and shame in Ireland".

Such testimonies highlight that it is "real people that this affects", including family members and work colleagues, she said.

"The point of personal stories is to show people that it's not some kind of stereotypical situation where women are having mad, unprotected sex all the time and getting pregnant and don't care."

Pro-life supporters have denounced the pro-choice testimonies as individual cases being exploited to rewrite the laws, and Mizzoni said the campaign has been "getting ugly".

But she said many women, including some in their 50s and 60s, have been sharing their stories on the doorstep as "Yes" campaigners go canvassing.

"I think it's quite empowering now for women to be able to talk about this."

The yoga teacher is "cautiously optimistic" about the referendum result, with opinion polls giving the "Yes" vote to repeal the abortion ban a slight advantage, although many voters are still undecided.

Mizzoni would like to be a mother in a few years.

She admits that having to constantly relive her abortion has been "exhausting", but worthwhile if the "No" vote loses.