Karen was just 19 when she discovered she was pregnant. She had no symptoms, and was using a contraceptive injection. But after suffering acute back pain, she visited her doctor, who referred her to the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow. She was nearly 23 weeks gone.
“They told me, ‘You need to go to London now, you’re days away from this not happening’,” she recalled. The shock was so great she vomited over herself.
The next morning, Karen and her parents were en route to London. When they arrived at the clinic, her father put his arms around her and pulled her close. She soon realised why.
“There were all these protestors outside, and they all started screaming at me, shouting ‘murderer’, and throwing eggs,” she said.
The trauma of the trip, she says, made an already fraught experience worse. “I was all over the place, I didn’t have time to think,” she remembered. “I found at 4pm one day I was months pregnant, then I was on a flight at 7am.”
Karen says no one at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde told her she could reclaim travel or accommodation expenses, leaving her family thousands of pounds out of pocket.
Another woman, Joanne, discovered she was 20 weeks’ pregnant after her coil failed. She felt pressured by the initial conversations with healthcare providers in Glasgow. “I was totally in shock, but at the time, I was almost led to believe the gestation laws were different in Scotland than England,” she said.
Joanne ended up travelling with her mother to a BPAS clinic in London at short notice. The only available train tickets were first class, and not knowing how long recovery would take, they booked a hotel for three nights. In all, they spent around £600, which they were only able to claim back from their health board after asking.
“I was so fortunate that I had my mum,” she said. “Even at the time, I was completely horrified thinking about people having to travel alone.”
Although she was listened to and respected by the staff, and “exceptionally well looked after” during the abortion itself, Joanne said the experience “made a difficult time more traumatic” due to the presence of anti-abortion protestors.
She added: “The thought of women having to go through what I went through is a disgrace to Scotland, a country which so outwardly proclaims to be a progressive nation.”
Another woman said she was “completely shell shocked” at her lack of options after discovering she was nearly 17 weeks’ pregnant, despite using contraception with the same partner. She travelled by train to London for an abortion which spanned two procedures over two days.
At the end, she felt “very fragile” and booked a flight back to get home as quickly as possible. After arriving late at night, she went to work the next day despite being in “agony”, and could not face emailing her travel receipts for reimbursement by her health board.
“I didn’t want to deal with it anymore,” she reflected. “I was just trying to move on the best I could.”
All names have been changed to protect their anonymity