“Getting an abortion in 1953 wasn’t that easy.”

In 1953 Frau Bienkowski’s friend, who was having an affair with a married man, got pregnant. Though she’d had abortions before, she couldn’t get one this time. She had a baby daughter.

The man left his wife. Frau Bienkowski advised her friend not to marry the man. But she did.

After a few years they moved from Berlin to the south of Germany, where his family was from. Frau Bienkowski didn’t like the man. He wasn’t very nice and he drank a lot. He had other children too. Frau Bienkowski and her friend fell out over him for a while.

A few weeks ago, when it was Frau Bienkowski’s birthday, the woman called her.

She’s 89 now and her husband is dead. But the daughter grew up to be a wonderful woman.

“I said to her,” said Frau Bienkowski, prodding her fork into her kiwi cake, “I said, you went through a terrible few years. But look what you’ve got now. A wonderful daughter.”

It all turned out for the best, Frau Bienkowski said. Now she has a diligent daughter – a medical assistant – to take care of her in old age.

Frau Bienkowski and I talked about abortion. I told her it was illegal in Ireland. She had heard about the case of Savita Halappanavar.

Even though her friend now has a lovely daughter to take care of her in old age and her own beloved son died, Frau Bienkowski, 94, and I, seventy years her junior, agreed that Ireland should legalise abortion, and not just if a woman tells three doctors she’s suicidal.

When Frau Bienkowski was young, the pill wasn’t available. “You had to be really careful,” she said.

I told her that when my mother came to Ireland, people went to Georgian houses where doctors illicitly provided them with condoms.

“Contraception is probably still forbidden in Ireland,” Frau Bienkowski said, laughing.

I assured her that, thankfully, it was not.

But I told her that women go to England to get abortions. “Oh, is it legal there?” Frau Bienkowski asked. For her, England and Ireland are pretty much one.

“I’m surprised there’s such a demand for abortion these days though,” Frau Bienkowski said. “With so much contraception available.”

Frau Bienkowski and I talked about men. She knew several who were serially unfaithful.

I said I didn’t like people who wanted to have an exclusive partner and also lots of secret ones. I said I could understand people wanting to have sex with lots of different people, and liking open relationships. But that deceit drove me up the wall.

Frau Bienkowski agreed.

Then she asked: “So how are things with Andrew? What’s the story with his plans?”

“I have good news,” I said.

She looked intently at me. “Yes?”

“He’s moving to Berlin!” I said.

“That’s to my advantage,” she said.

Here eyes were sparkling. “That means you’re staying!”

“It sure does,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere for a while.”

“That’s to my advantage,” she said again.

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How Ireland looks on Al Jazeera

I was gazing around the room during a quiet spell at work yesterday when I was startled to see Jesus Christ pop up on O’Connell Street. He’d appeared on one of the display screens featuring rival TV stations. The channel was Al Jazeera.

The Qatar-based news channel was reporting on how the economic crisis in Ireland is affecting women seeking to travel abroad to have an abortion. The piece is 2 minutes and 57 seconds long. It begins with some black and white shots of Jesus in his plastic display case on O’Connell Street, then cuts to a church and a lady with a pram. Finally it turns colour to reveal the reporter, Laurence Lee, formerly of the BBC, standing in a park.

It is an embarrassing watch. Ireland is painted as backward and its society described as “conformist.” We’re mentioned in the same breath as Iran and Afghanistan.

Travelling for an abortion from Ireland works on the same principle of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which used to apply to gay members of the American military.

Nobody I know has told me they’ve had an abortion. Conversely, I’ve never asked if they’ve had one. But according to Lee’s report, the number of requests to a UK-based charity offering financial aid to women travelling to get an abortion has tripled in the last three years.

While I strongly support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, the report left me feeling slightly defensive. Do we really live in a culture of silence? Is abortion really taboo?

Sadly, yes. But things are changing. The Irish Times ran a series on abortion a few months ago which invited women to tell their own stories. It got a huge response. Scores of women who had never before shared their experience finally elected to, spurred on by the sudden knowledge that they were not alone.

I do have one concrete objection to the report. Lee says that in Ireland a woman cannot have an abortion even if the fact of her pregnancy is putting her life at risk. Following the X case ruling, that isn’t quite accurate. However, so far there has been no legislation to support that judgement. The European Court of Human Rights is on our back about that too and it’s deeply embarrassing.

On the same day that the Al Jazeera report ran, at least 2000 people turned up in Castlebar in Mayo to demand Fine Gael live up to their pre-election “pro-life” promise.

Mostly the report left me dissatisfied because I thought, “What an unfortunate and reductionist view of Ireland to beam throughout the world, one which ignores the enlightened existences of my liberal-minded friends and me.”

Then I remembered that simplification and exaggeration are the hallmarks of a 3-minute news report. And that in a way, a piece like this might actually give me more of an insight into my country than my restricted and evidently unrepresentative social circle does.

I got back to writing my own three-minute international report, a little wiser about how little I know about everything.