A Twitter account documenting an Irish woman's journey to get an abortion in Britain has caused waves on social media. It has also breathed new life into a campaign against Ireand's strict laws on reproductive rights.
The Twitter account @TwoWomenTravel has caused a storm of reactions in Ireland after documenting the journey of two Irish women to the United Kingdom, so that one of two could have an abortion, a medical procedure which is banned in the Republic of Ireland.
The account, which describes itself as "two Women, one procedure, 48 hours away from home," was a 28-post live-tweet which described in a plain, matter-of-fact tone the various steps of the trip one of the women went through to have the operation - from the "chilling" walk to the airplane to the uneasy time spent in the clinic’s waiting room.
The posts, which never included the names or faces of the two women involved, were all addressed to the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny.
Support from Pro-Choice groups
The women’s tweets and accompanying hashtag #TwoWomenTravel were each shared hundreds of times, with one post, which announced that the woman who underwent the operation was "out & safe," was retweeted over a thousand times.
The account received much support from pro-choice groups and individual advocates in Ireland and abroad.
One of these groups, Abortion Rights IE, expressed its solidarity by posting a screenshot of their Facebook comments section showing messages of support for Two Women Travel.
One public television presenter, Grainne Seoige, tweeted out her support saying she felt "compassion" for the "bravery" the traveling women had shown.
'A PR stunt'
But the women's story was also heavily criticized on Twitter by opponents of abortion - many of them men.
Cork-based user Jerry Slattery called the entire story a "tasteless" gimmick, adding it was a "PR stunt" that would not win pro-choice groups' support.
Another user describing himself as "pro-life" also called the tweet thread a stunt and questioned the honesty of the two women, wondering if what they described had actually happened.
But many responded to this criticism, as did one Dublin-based Twitter user who considered such critiques "ironic."
A costly procedure
According to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), each year, some 5,000 Irish women seek abortion procedures abroad; roughly 3,500 of these occur in England, Wales or Scotland, where the procedure is legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. That’s over 13 each day, with nine of the medical procedures occurring in the UK.
Traveling to Britain is expensive and not accessible to poorer women: According to the IFPA, getting an abortion in the in the UK costs on average "at least 1,000 euros" ($1,130), with complications such fetal anomaly making it more expensive.
However, many women who choose to undergo an abortion are left with no choice given Ireland’s legislation: Since 1983, the Eighth Amendment in the Republic of Ireland’s Constitution has banned abortion, even in cases of cases of rape, incest or fetal anomaly.
Undergoing one or carrying out the procedure can lead to 14 years in jail.
Calls to change the law
In 2012, the death of Savita Halappanavar, a pregnant woman who suffered fatal miscarriage after being refused an abortion, pushed the government to partially amend the law, making an exception for situations where a pregnant woman’s life was endangered.
Despite this change, Ireland’s abortion laws have been repeated condemned by, among others, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee, which last June ruled the ban to be "cruel, inhuman or degrading," calling on the Irish state to reform its laws.
This echoes calls by Irish organizations which have been demanding changes to the law for several years. On Twitter this campaign has its own hashtag, #repealthe8th, which asks for the amendment banning abortion to be scrapped.
The @TwoWomenTravel used this hashtag in their final tweet.
And several activists and pro-choice advocates who tweeted in support of the two women also used the same hashtag.
A march is planned in Dublin on September 24, with many hoping that recent events, such as the legalization of divorce (1995) and gay marriage (2015), constitute a tide that could also sweep abortion laws.
The Irish government has not yet officially responded to the Two Women's story, nor has the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, who was named in every tweet, put out a statement. In the past Kenny has spoken out in support of the strict laws.
However, Health Minister Simon Harris did acknowledge the tweets, thanking the travelers for "telling a story of reality which faces many" and hinting that this would help in future discussions of abortion laws in the country.