By OONAGH TIMSON
THE rapidly rising number of Irish girls having abor
tions in England last year 1,562 known cases from the Republic and 1,100 from the
North has become a matter of grave concern to the Irish hierarchy.
lifeline, an advisory service for pregnant unmarried women, is to be set up as soon as possible. This service, which will cost £10,000 a year to operate, will put the pregnant girl in touch with existing organisations which can help her and her child.
But there is an organisation already in existence which was set up in 1972 and which, in spite of having no financial help from any quarter, still manages to survive and grow.
Cherish is an association of single parents which was started by a small group of girls with young babies, for the purpose of mutual help and encouragement.
Senator Mary Robinson is its president, and it operated from the home of a founder-member, Maura O'Dea, until February. 1975, when its present headquarters was donated by a businessman pending redevelopment.
Cherish now receives 1.1,000 from the Eastern Health Board, which helps to pay for its two full-time social workers. It is kept going by voluntary subscription and an annual flag day.
Apart from the permanent staff, the directors (all girls who either founded the association or had been helped by it) keep in daily contact so as to deal with the frequent social problems or queries presented by the many girls who come to them for help or advice.
Fortnightly meetings for pregnant girls. single mothers and social workers are held, and it has been found that a girl reluctant to come and talk personally to a social worker about her problem will come to a meeting.
Increasingly social workers from other agencies Or hospitals have been sending girls in need to Cherish. Last year it dealt with more than 500 calls for help.
Cherish hopes to have an office Or at least a telephone number in every major town in Ireland. The organisers feel that girls needing help and advice should not have to come to Dublin. Many arrive very advanced in pregnancy without having had any medical attention whatsoever.
The main difficulty is finding the unmarried mother who is strong • enough to stand up in her own locality and face what will beinitially at least a hostile community, The fact that it can be done is proved by the very existence of Cherish.
Contrary to current thinking, and in spite of the figures involved, Irish girls are not abortion-minded. It is when they find themselves pregnant, and so often abandoned by both boyfriend and family. that the only way out seems to be abortion.
Mary Liddy's son Tom is eight months old. That he exists at all is due to the courage of Mary Liddy and to the help and encouragement given to her by Cherish, She feels very strongly about girls being pressured by "other people's conventions" into having an abortion, and feels sad that social pressure causes so many girls to take that decision.
When she found herself pregnant did she go to her local priest, or any priest for that matter. for help'? She said that she felt they were "only interested in adoption, and that just didn't enter into it for me.
"The choice for me, which will be the same as for most girls like me, is between abortion and keeping my own child. I was under the impression that no one would encourage you to keep your child in Ireland."
Archbishop Ryan's published words on the unmarried mother makes Mary very angry indeed. "He talks about compassion. This attitude has gone on so long, and has caused so much anguish. He speaks out against abortion, but for many there is no choice, they are made to feel like moral rejects."
The choice for Mary was between abortion and keeping her baby. Cherish made the latter choice possible. Limerick now hels a Cherish office.. As well as courageous young women, money to help solve such practical problems as accommodation and day nurseries is sorely needed.