A woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is fundamentally private. Who she shares that decision with should be completely up to her. Despite that, some women find themselves in situations where this decision is taken away from them, such as when they have to run the gauntlet of protesters outside a clinic. That said, one woman took it upon herself this past week to share her unnecessarily long journey from Ireland to the UK to have an abortion in order to draw the public’s attention to her unfair ordeal to exercise control over her own body.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland, but not in the UK. As a result, thousands of women each year travel between the countries to get an abortion. A procedure that should take less than an hour ends up taking at least two days, including travel. Instead of being able to have a friend drive her to and from the clinic, an Irish woman has to fly to England or Wales and spend the night, as 3,451 women did in 2015. That means, after the procedure, a woman has to fly home, often still bleeding.
— Two Women Travel (@TwoWomenTravel) August 21, 2016
It means that a woman who wants a friend by her side must double her traveling expenses. It means that she must have a personal procedure in a foreign land. These indignities are unfair, at best.
In a bold move to draw public attention to this indignity, one Irish woman and her friend launched a Twitter account named @TwoWomenTravel to live-tweet their 48-hour ordeal, using the hashtag #TwoWomenTravel. Along the way, they repeatedly tagged the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny (@EndaKennyTD). Tagging Kenny ensured that he would be well informed about the challenges his government forces upon women trying to control their own bodies and their own lives; a right that every man enjoys without challenge.
By tagging the Prime Minster, @TwoWomenTravel are practicing the art of “social advocacy,” where they are sending messages to a public official via social media. And as a result, their communications are visible to the entire world, creating strong public pressure on the official to take notice. And while the PM has not replied to any of their tweets, Ireland’s Minister of Health has.
Thanks to @TwoWomenTravel for telling story of reality which faces many. Citizens Assembly – a forum to discuss 8th & make recommendations
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) August 21, 2016
The response by Ireland’s Health Minister, Simon Harris, shows that publicly targeting government officials in social advocacy posts works. It gets the attention of government officials and lawmakers. In the United States, for example, a recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation found that as few as 10-30 social media posts directed at a Member of Congress can put an issue on his or her agenda.
While it is great that the Irish Minister of Health replied, it should be noted that he omitted the #TwoWomenTravel hashtag. Though he replied to @TwoWomenTravel directly, and they were notified, his reply was not aggregated into the larger international hashtag conversation. That vibrant conversation is seeing new posts every minute or two, still. Fortunately, some of the press has picked up on the Health Minister’s reply, so the Irish government is getting some props for acknowledging the plight of these women and expressing, to some degree, support. But if the government really wants to become part of the conversation in earnest, it should be using the hashtag, as well.
It is not really right that any woman should have to put such a private decision and experience on public display for the world to see. But the fact that these two women have done so on behalf of the thousands of Irish women struggling with this indignity each year should be applauded. Their sacrifice opens the door to changing Irish policy and giving Irish women the rights they deserve.