Over the weekend, two Irish women logged onto Twitter, boarded a plane and left their country in order to have an abortion.
— Two Women Travel (@TwoWomenTravel) August 20, 2016
The women flew to Britain at dawn on Saturday morning, snapping pictures and sharing snippets of the desperation that forced their travel as they went. One wanted to exercise the right given to women in dozens of other countries, and one was a friend. “Two women, one procedure, 48 hours away from home,” the profile description for @TwoWomenTravel read, keeping the women nameless. They joined the more than 3,000 women who travel from Ireland to the U.K. for abortions every year, according to the U.K. Department of Health.
Ireland, overwhelmingly Catholic, is one of a shrinking number of countries that bans abortions unless a woman’s life is at risk and has the strictest ban in all of the European Union. It looms large on lists of countries with some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, next to nations like Iran, Nigeria and Brazil. The law is enshrined in the country’s eighth constitutional amendment, which gives the same rights to a fetus as its mother, and is supported by the current prime minister, Enda Kenny.
“Thanks @EndaKennyTN” the women tweeted, repeatedly tagging him in their tweets and pictures. Once on the ground in the U.K., the women sat “with bated breath” in the first waiting room before learning the procedure was “more than originally anticipated.” Whizzing through the streets in a taxi, one of the women typed, “Hit us back the taxi fare @EndaKennyTD?” Once in their second clinic, the women met other compatriots during the wait.
After the procedure, they thanked their growing supporters. “Our love to you all. @EndaKennyTD failed us. You did not.”
In June, the United Nations Human Rights Committee proposed that Ireland “should amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy” following a case brought by Amanda Mellet, an Irish woman who, after being told that her fetus would not survive her pregnancy, traveled to the United Kingdom for an abortion.
While the committee doesn’t have legal authority, it marked the first time it has found Ireland’s abortion laws to be in conflict with the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Opinions are shifting as well. Polls taken since 2013 indicate that a majority of people favor loosening the country’s restrictions to allow for abortions under certain circumstances, like rape and fetal abnormality.
Kenny promised to convene a Citizens’ Assembly, made up of 100 representatives, to review proposed changes to the constitution, including the eighth amendment. It is due to meet in October 2016, although Kenny has been vocally pessimistic about the hopes for a repeal.
“My view is that if we were to decide to have a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in October, it would not be passed,” he said, according to the Irish Times.
@TwoWomenTravel, however, vows to fight on. “We defy the Irish government to ignore us and we defy our Taoiseach [prime minister) Enda Kenny to avoid this conversation. We have done this to bring to light the reality of our journey to our sisters, mothers brothers, fathers, friends, colleagues and total strangers. All of whom have shown more empathy, support and acceptance than our own government.”