When Helen* went to the emergency ward of a London hospital with mysterious stomach cramps, she was shocked when doctors told her she was five weeks pregnant. It was February 2016 and she had just been made homeless - after being discharged from hospital, she spent three nights sleeping in a bus station as she had nowhere else to go.

“I was sleeping outside, I was hungry and I had no food. I was so worried that I couldn’t even sleep,” she recalls. “How could I handle a pregnancy when I had no plan?”

Helen desperately needed to see a doctor – yet she says four GP surgeries turned her away for not having papers to prove her address, even though no such documents are required. “The whole experience was tiring and scary. I really didn’t know what to do,” she says.

Helen had arrived in the UK in 2014, after a journey from her home country of Eritrea that lasted six harrowing years. During those years, she was often at the mercy of ruthless smugglers and spent spells in prisons just for crossing borders. She thought constantly of her daughter, whom she’d had to leave behind with relatives.

Helen was granted refugee status weeks after arriving in the UK, giving her full legal rights to live here. Eritrea is widely recognised as one of the world’s most oppressive countries. But, in 2016, she became homeless when a friend’s offer of a place to stay fell through. 

Helen decided her life was too unstable to have a baby, but she couldn’t see a doctor to arrange the abortion she needed. She knew she had to act before her pregnancy advanced too far.

Luckily, Helen then heard about our clinic in east London from a refugee charity. Our volunteers helped her both to register with a GP and access abortion services, and also referred her to homelessness charities for housing advice. We spent seven weeks liaising with surgeries and other groups on her behalf.

“It was a turning point for me,” she says. “If I had had a baby while I had such a complicated life, it would not have been good for anyone. Having children is a good thing, but I couldn’t do it at that time.”

Just over a year later, Helen has a job as a chef and lives with her daughter, now aged 13, who was granted permission to join her in the UK. “When she arrived at the airport, I almost fainted with happiness!” Helen says, adding that her daughter is doing well at school in the UK and wants to be a lawyer.

“My life has really changed. I am happy.”

*Name has been changed