Meet the pro-choice crusader changing the lives of women

Mara Clarke founded the Abortion Support Network, which provides non-judgemental advice, financial assistance and accommodation to women travelling from Ireland and the Isle of Man to access safe terminations. Marie Claire's Hilal Seven hears her story

Abortion Support Network (ASN) is a charity that covers the cost of accessing abortion services in the UK (including travel to get there). Assistance ranges from £400 to £2000 depending on circumstance and stage of pregnancy.

It was founded by Mara Clarke, 44, an ex PR consultant,  with the understanding that making abortion against the law doesn’t stop abortion but only stops safe abortion, ‘Because when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, women with money have options and women without money have babies, or do dangerous and desperate things.’ she adds. We asked her about her job.

MC: What made you decide to start the Abortion Support Network?

M: In 2002 I was living in Sweden for 6 months and during that time my then boyfriend and I had a broken condom. I was able to go to the chemist and request the morning after pill, something that you couldn’t get in the US without a prescription at that time. And it opened my eyes.

It’s not ‘why did I set up Abortion Support Network’ but why, in 2009, did I have too? Why in 2009, people in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man who needed abortions, were forced to travel to another country at a large financial and emotional expense? I started ASN because I didn’t think ‘I can’t afford an abortion’ should be the only reason someone becomes a parent.

mara clarke

MC: What motivates you every day to keep going?

M: Being a parent is something that people should choose. Joy also keeps me going. When we say to a young desperate girl ‘yes we will help you’ you can just feel the relief on the other end of the phone. And we are a tiny organization. Up until 2 years ago everybody was a volunteer. We crowd founded my salary. Now we have got 65 people who help out on a voluntary basis.

MC: Are there particular stories that stick in your mind from women you have met through your work?

M: There are so many. There was a mother of 4, who said to us; ‘I was trying to think of how I could crash my car to cause a miscarriage but not permanently injure myself or die so I could still care for my other kids’. When she called us, we told her that the money is here. Its yours. Another girl was 14 years old. She was 20 weeks when she found out and didn’t want to have a baby but was she was told by the doctor; ‘you are going to have the baby whether you want it or not’.  We tell them which clinics are closest to the airport, which airlines they can fly with without a passport. We help a number of refugees and asylum seekers and migrants too.

MC: What are your hopes for the future?

M: I want to be put out of a job. I want to close up shop, and never have to do this work again. I want Ireland and Northern Ireland to have free, safe, legal abortion and I have some hope. If that happens than we will move on to Poland and than to Malta. So the vision of our charity is that women all over the world have information and access to safe legal abortions.

MC: So is the answer better sex education?

M: Even if you have perfect sex education, even if everybody having sex was using birth control, people are still going to need abortions. Because I can tell you every kind of birth control you can be on you can still get pregnant, and being on birth control doesn’t prevent you being raped. One woman who came to us had 4 kids, had had cervical cancer and was told she couldn’t get pregnant, but she was taking the pill just to be safe. And she got pregnant anyway.

For more information visit the Abortion Support Network

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