Alliance for Choice, a Belfast-based feminist collective, is on a mission to encourage people to talk more openly about reproductive health and abortion. Persistent campaigning by groups like Alliance in 2018 led to the overturning of a generations-old ban on abortion in Ireland. Now more determined than ever, the women want to achieve the same outcome at home in Northern Ireland.
Historically, abortion has been a very sensitive subject across Irish society, only spoken of in whispers and in private. The Alliance estimates every week, 30 women from the North go to Britain to access abortion services. The group's co-chair Emma Campbell says the privacy and security WhatsApp offers has empowered people to finally speak out and enabled organizations like hers to reach more women in need.
Sometimes, Emma says, her teams discuss very sensitive issues which they would never do publicly via social media or by other means. WhatsApp, she adds, provides end-to-end encryption to protect the privacy of their communications.
The privacy and security WhatsApp offers has empowered people to finally speak out
To raise awareness and garner support for the legalization of abortion in Northern Ireland — which would allow women easier access to services and make the experience more dignified — Alliance has collected over 50,000 signatures for a petition. Emma says WhatsApp is crucial to their success.
Ahead of Ireland’s 2018 abortion referendum, scores of Alliance activists headed south every weekend to canvas support, knocking on thousands of doors to spread their message.
"We’re communicating with people in Ireland. If we’d just used text messages or phone calls we’d be charged the same rates as phoning Spain or France but WhatsApp means we can communicate for free," explains Emma.
The Alliance has multiple WhatsApp groups for different purposes — from organizing rallies to arranging community workshops. Each of these groups has between five and 230 members.
“It’s the immediacy,” says Danielle Roberts, a PhD student and Alliance activist. “On referendum day, things were moving too quickly for emails to be useful. We also use WhatsApp to share photos because it doesn’t affect the quality like other messaging apps do.”
Should the ban on abortion be lifted, it will be the biggest advance in female empowerment in Northern Ireland since women’s suffrage in 1928. Emma says the challenge is immense but with the help of WhatsApp, more people are talking about the issue than ever before and feeling brave enough to show their support for landmark change.