Why did Twitter try to silence these women?

Yesterday, Twitter made it impossible to tweet or link to a particular web address.

The website that Twitter banned wasn’t porn. It wasn’t a website that was racist, that incited hate or that facilitated the trafficking of children. It was not a website with links to terrorism, murder or violence.

It was a website about abortion.

Yesterday, Women on Web, a website dedicated to bringing medical abortions to women across the world could not communicate via Twitter.

The page that could not be shared on Twitter.

Anyone who wanted to spread information about the work of Women on Web could not. More importantly, anyone who wanted to direct a woman to Women on Web’s service was unable to.

Why Twitter decided to censor the site is not clear. They have not responded to Women on Web’s requests for reinstatement or to the hashtag #freewomenonweb, which has been trending in a number of countries.

Women on Web is a website run by Dutch organisation, Women on Waves.

Women on Waves was established in 2001 by a Dutch doctor named, Rebecca Gomperts. The organisation provides a medical abortion service to countries where abortion is illegal, unsafe or not widely available by providing medical abortion services on a boat.

One of the Women on Waves boats. Via their website.

Women on Waves sail Dutch ships to countries where abortion is unavailable, taking pregnant women on board, and then sail into international waters to provide them with the medication to induce a medical abortion. The women are then returned home with a list of instructions and notes on what to expect. If there are any complications, the women can see local doctors without fear of persecution as the medical abortions appear to outsiders as a standard miscarriage.

What having an abortion is actually like.

The medications used to induce a medical abortion, misoprostol and mifepristone   (known as RU486 in Australia), are legal in many States in the US and in Europe and are on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines.


In 2005, Women on Waves established the website Women on Web, a “telemedicine support service” where women can contact the organisation’s help desk and, if appropriate, arrange to be sent the medication to perform their own abortion. Only women with pregnancies less than 9 weeks can access the service (to ensure that, with delivery time, the abortion isn’t induced after the first trimester). Women on Web work closely with doctors to ensure that the process is as safe as possible, the doctors write the prescriptions and the medication is sent from a warehouse in India.

Here are the facts on abortion drug RU486.

Unsafe abortion is a leading killer of women. At least thirteen percent of all maternal deaths in the world are attributable to unsafe abortion. And it’s not just in developing countries – five thousand women die every year in the United States from botched abortions.

The Centre for Reproductive Rights maintains a map of the countries in the world where abortion is still illegal. And interactive version of the map is here.

The number of unsafe abortions in Australia is negligible, but abortion remains a crime in several Australian states (including Queensland and NSW – where it is only legal when a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger).

It is outrageous for an organisation like Twitter, whose sole currency is information, to deny women access to information about their own health and wellbeing.

But in a world where 21.6 million women undergo an unsafe abortion every year, it is not just ridiculous – it is downright dangerous to prevent women getting access to safer options that could save their lives.

Twitter must reverse its decision and support the spread of information that is vital to the health of women across the globe.

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