Stunned, crying, feeling sick and so upset

Zoe, not her real name, tells her story. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

Zoe, not her real name, tells her story. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

THE sick feeling came over her as soon as she saw them.

The protesters were lined up on Englehardt Street, rosary beads in hand.

They were seemingly innocuous from a distance.

So why did Zoe feel so panicked?

She had known there was an abortion clinic in Albury, although she didn’t know exactly where it was.

She’d heard vague reference to the pro-life supporters who rallied outside, but had never paid much attention to the issue.

Until that Thursday in March.

Falling pregnant to her boyfriend of four years had not been the plan.

Zoe had been focused solely on rebuilding her life after she was raped nine months ago by someone she had thought was a friend.

The couple agreed now was not the time to have a child.

“As it happened, we actually had been trying for children before the rape,” she said, her voice wavering slightly and a faint smile on her lips.

She spoke at length with her GP and sexual assault counsellor before the procedure.

Each told her about the protesters, and to pretend they weren’t there.

“I was confident I would be OK with it because I was really comfortable with my decision,” she said.

“My mood and demeanour just changed as soon as I saw them.

“There was a really huge feeling of tension that came over me.

“I kind of started crying a little bit.”

Zoe walked on, head down, squeezing her boyfriend’s hand and trying not to look at them.

But one man, she says, insisted that if he was not seen, he would at least be heard: “Babies get killed in there. Do you know you’re going to burn in hell if you do this?”

She was stunned, and the young couple hurried inside before they could say anything else.

“There just seems to be nothing you can do,” she said.

“They say they’re trying to help people when they’re forcing themselves in on a really stressful day already and telling me what to do with myself.

“The fact someone can seem to hate me so forcefully without even knowing my story... and they obviously weren’t going to change their minds even if they did.”

But she doubts many patients would either.

“If you’ve built yourself up and booked the appointment and paid for it, and stressed out and cried, and got yourself to the clinic, you’re not going to change your mind just because they show you a picture,” she said.

“Every woman who goes in there knows their own story and knows that decision is right for her.”

Inside, they waited with about five other couples.

Each was looking about as stressed as Zoe felt.

In a final counselling session with the doctor before the procedure, he offered to rebook the appointment at the clinic if she needed more time.

There’s a part of Zoe that would like to tell this story using her real name.

But she says abortion is “not something people are open to”.

And the feeling of judgment outside the clinic still stings.