3 Aug 2018

    Here's What The Woman Fired By Cricket Australia For Tweeting About Abortion Wants You To Know

    She told BuzzFeed News the Tasmanian government doesn't respect people who stand up for reproductive rights.

    Angela Williamson had no intention of telling her parents about her abortion.

    "I'm 39 and I had to tell my mum and dad that I'd lost my job because I tweeted about accessing abortion," Williamson, who was sacked by Cricket Australia in late June for tweeting about the lack of abortion access in her state, told BuzzFeed News. "So then of course I had to explain to [my parents] about my own termination."

    Williamson flew to Victoria in February for the procedure which cost $4,500 for flights, accommodation and medical bills. She had spent weeks trying to access the procedure in Tasmania at a public hospital and the single remaining private provider. She tweeted about her experience, even offering to sit down with leaders of all political parties and explain the reality of the situation on the ground for women seeking an abortion in Tasmania.

    Angela Williamson

    Angela Williamson

    "You have my number," Williamson, who is a former staffer to Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman, wrote.

    Then one of the premier's senior advisors Martine Haley sent screenshots of these tweets to Williamson's new employer, Cricket Australia.

    Haley then resigned.

    Williamson sent Hodgman a text after her ordeal in which she said: "I only returned from Melbourne on Sunday having had to fly to Melbourne for a second trimester termination. Yes, my feelings are raw but how dare your team treat me, someone they know like this."

    Five months later, after news broke of Williamson's dismissal, Hodgman released a statement on Wednesday which said "the government has always had a good working relationship with Ms Williamson".

    On Thursday night Tasmanian health minister Michael Ferguson released a statement about the state's opposition party that said: "Labor’s claims that the government has influenced the employment status of Ms Williamson are baseless and without evidence."

    This isn't the first time the premier and his ministers have directly contradicted Williamson's account of events.

    In February Ferguson and federal health minister Greg Hunt said services had been "restored" in the state. Williamson's story proved they had not.

    Andrew Drummond / AAPIMAGE

    Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson (left) and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman.

    Williamson said the premier promised her via text that his government would "keep working on it all".

    BuzzFeed News has asked Hodgman about these text messages.

    "He acknowledged what I'd been through but not genuinely acknowledging that more work was needed [to restore services]," she said.

    The Melbourne Marie Stopes Australia clinic where Williamson had her procedure reported a dramatic increase in the number of Tasmanian women presenting for surgical abortions since the main provider of surgical abortion service for 17 years in Tasmania shut up shop in January. Since January the number of Tasmanian women presenting each month at the clinic had risen from one or two to 10.

    "The moment I tweeted about the access issues I became a target," Williamson said. "The tweet was raised with my local employers and then various actions were put in place after input from two Tasmanian government officials and ultimately because of that, the local Cricket Australia association lost their confidence in my ability to deliver and I was terminated."

    She has lodged a complaint about her dismissal with the Fair Work Commission.

    Cricket Australia's latest statement earlier this week on the issue confirmed it had terminated Williamson's employment and that legal proceedings surrounding that decision were "ongoing".

    “Cricket Australia respects an individual's right to their opinion," the statement said. "However, it expects that employees will refrain from making offensive comments that contravene the organisation’s social media policy.”

    When Williamson spoke to BuzzFeed News in March about the hurdles and costs she faced accessing an abortion in Tasmania, she asked to use a pseudonym because she wasn't ready to tell many of her family members, friends or colleagues about her termination.

    "I withheld my name to protect my family so I could control the conversations and protect my privacy... but I ended up getting sacked for all the reasons why I remained anonymous," she said. "By now going public and opening up a really important discussion for Australian women, I've lost the ability to protect myself and I feel really vulnerable."

    Telling her story anonymously in March "emboldened" Williamson, she said, to work behind the scenes with politicians from all political parties to look into improving access to abortion in the state.

    "Before the [BuzzFeed News stories] came out I was really nervous but now I feel like I don't want anyone else to have to go through what I went through and not just having to go to Melbourne to access a termination but also I don't want any woman to feel like standing up for reproductive rights could cost them their job."

    She had a meeting with three Liberal politicians and one current staffer about her personal situation.

    "I told them what it felt like to navigate the current system and what they could do to fix it," she said. "It was practical and constructive but didn't lead to anything."

    "My story hasn't just been impacted by a lack of services in Tasmania but by a culture in the government that doesn't respect those who stand up and call for reform." 

    In June, Williamson sat in the public gallery to watch a motion to address Tasmania's abortion access situation by providing the procedure in public hospitals fail in the state's parliament.

    During the debate Labor MP Michelle O'Byrne told Williamson's then anonymised story before the motion was defeated 12-11.

    Williamson said she found Tasmanian health minister Michael Ferguson's language during the debate "disrespectful".

    "At one point there wasn't a single woman from the government in the room," Williamson said. "The language the government was using was reckless and irresponsible."

    Ferguson told parliament the debate should not be limited to those who were pro-choice: "If we do really respect the range of individuals and their good motivations in this area, we would also respect them for taking a different view that the pregnancy they are carrying is a pregnancy with a potency for human life."

    Ferguson supported a declaration made by five of Tasmania's churches in 2013 to oppose the decriminalisation of abortion in the state, and also described making RU486 available to Australian women as akin to the Singapore execution of Australian Nguyen Tuong Van.

    Williamson questions whether Ferguson is the "right fit" for his role as health minister.

    "[Ferguson] is the custodian of reproductive rights in Tasmania and every chance he's had he hasn't advanced them," she said. "Tell me another minister who would do nothing when all service providers close."

    In July the government announced a five-year deal had been struck with a "new private provider to deliver low-cost surgical termination of pregnancy services in Tasmania" which would begin in October. Williamson said that wasn't soon enough.

    When she first went to her GP in February with a positive pregnancy test her doctor said it was the first time she had referred someone for a termination.

    "I saw her today for something else," Williamson said on Thursday. "There have been six women since me looking to terminate their pregnancies and services still haven't been restored."


    Gina Rushton is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Gina Rushton at gina.rushton@buzzfeed.com.

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