Lifestyle & Belief

How tweeting a story of a secret abortion shocked Ireland

Janet Ni Shuilleabhain.jpg

Janet Ni Shuilleabhain was 18 when she traveled to England for an abortion.

Credit:

BBC

In Ireland, abortion rights are deeply contentious. The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. And when Janet Ni Shuilleabhain chose to tweet about her experience having an abortion, it went viral. At the time, she was the guest curator of the @Ireland Twitter account, which has 20,000 followers.

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Set up in March 2012 by the Irish Central website, @Ireland is a "rotation curation" account. A new guest tweeter takes the reins each week. It is not linked to the government of Ireland.

While guest curator, Shuilleabhain retweeted a post from the Irish Family Planning Association, a pro-choice organization. That generated a lot of criticism, as people argued that the @Ireland account should not be used by someone with a pro-choice agenda.

Shuilleabhain is part of the campaign for abortion rights in Ireland. She then decided to tweet the following story of how she traveled to England when she was 18, for a secret abortion.

Shuilleabhain became involved with the @Ireland Twitter feed when she noticed one of the curators was expressing what she felt were very neo-conservative opinions through the account. It annoyed her. She looked the feed up and found out that anyone can apply to be a curator. So she did.

“I did not specifically set out to tweet about my personal abortion story,” she says. But on the fourth day of being in charge of the account, she retweeted the Irish Family Planning Association tweet. And others started criticizing her online for it.

“So I wrote back: RT just FYI I am pro-choice, I had an abortion myself and I am involved with @freesafelegal, the campaign for free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland.” That angered many of the followers.

Shuilleabhain says that in Ireland, abortion is only legal when the mother's life is deemed to be in immediate danger. She says it is not guaranteed for victims of rape or incest, for example, unless they are deemed to be suicidal, or if the fetus has an abnormality.

She says the responses to her tweet made her sad. “And then I got angry."

And so she wrote the series of tweets detailing her secret abortion. She says her profession, as a housewife, allows her to speak out publicly without worrying about issues with an employer.

And while her tweets went viral, Shuilleabhain says that major Irish news outlets ignored the story. She sees it as a sign of how much stigma remains around abortion rights in the republic.

But she's happy about going public with her story.

"If it's made one person who's made that journey feel less bad about it, then I'll be happy about it."