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Irish People Travelling Home For Christmas Have An Important Message About Abortion

Luggage tags that read "healthcare not airfare" aim to highlight the fact that every year, thousands of women travel from Ireland and Northern Ireland to Britain to get abortions.

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London Irish ARC / Via etsy.com

Irish people travelling home for Christmas are labelling their suitcases with "healthcare not airfare" luggage tags to highlight the number of women who travel to Britain for an abortion, which is illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Many people have been sharing pictures of their luggage tags on social media using the hashtag "Choice4Xmas".

Cara Sanquest, an organiser for the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), which created the luggage tags, said they were designed for those heading back to Ireland this Christmas to show support for women "travelling in the other direction".

Megan Tynan-O'Mahony, an Irish woman living in London, said she will be using one of the tags when she travels back to Ireland for Christmas next week.

"Not having legal abortion and aftercare in Ireland hasn’t stopped abortion from being an option for Irish people," she told BuzzFeed News. "There’s no shame in changing the course of our history to be more inclusive and understanding of our struggles.

"This is one way to start: by refusing to be quiet about an issue that is deeply affecting our people."

Travelling home to Ireland for Christmas, thinking about the 11 women a day who make the journey to Britain to acce… https://t.co/64rd6L1pF7

Sanquest said the group has sold hundreds of tags to Irish expats around the world. Proceeds from the tags will go to the campaign group Termination for Medical Reasons in Ireland, which has been instrumental in shaping conversations with the Irish government on reforming abortion law.

"They will catch peoples' eye and make them think about the reality of being forced to travel abroad in order to access a basic medical procedure," she said.

"Airports should be associated with holidays, not with accessing healthcare, and we wanted to have a physical reminder of these journeys that women are forced to make every day."

Thinking of all the women and pregnant people who have to travel out of Ireland every day to access abortion safely… https://t.co/9M3xL8HYRX

Hannah Little, the organiser for the London Irish ARC who came up with the idea for the tags, said that while travelling from Dublin to London regularly, she was "always mindful of those on my flight who could be travelling for very different reasons – it's heartbreaking to think you could be sharing a flight with passengers suffering crisis pregnancies travelling abroad just to make a decision that's right for them."

She told BuzzFeed News: "Travelling home from Gatwick yesterday, I saw two passengers with our luggage tags. Even though we didn't speak, it was heartwarming to know I was travelling with others as committed to repealing the eighth amendment as I am."

Travelling home for Christmas and thinking of the 11 Irish women forced to travel every day. Hoping 2018 brings pro… https://t.co/VlRGxtxBjB

According to the eighth amendment to Ireland's constitution, abortion is illegal in all circumstances except when a mother's life is at immediate risk. In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, abortion is also prohibited in almost all circumstances, because the Abortion Act 1967, which allows women in the rest of the UK access to the procedure, was never applied there.

In 2016, 3,265 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland to have an abortion in England and Wales, and an additional 724 came from Northern Ireland. It is thought that many more Irish women accessed abortion who are not recorded, either because they gave a UK address at the clinic, or they illegally obtained abortion pills online.

Earlier this year, the London Irish ARC drew more than 200,000 chalk marks on the pavement outside the Irish embassy in London to represent the number of women who've travelled from Ireland for an abortion since 1983, when the eighth amendment was written into Irish law.

Not traveling this Christmas but will happily add this @LdnIrishARC #Choice4Xmas tag to my regular bag in support o… https://t.co/8DI20jIcqi

A referendum on repealing the eighth amendment is expected to take place next year. A report submitted by a citizens assembly, set up by the Irish government to gather opinion and make recommendations on what new legislation should look like, states that abortion up to 12 weeks should be made legal in any circumstance.

It is hoped that the tags will help spark up conversations about the referendum and the impact the current law has on women. The London Irish ARC is also running workshops on how people can discuss the issue, which remains taboo for many, with their families.

Spent the last 24h packing 300 of these #HealthcareNotAirfare tags to send around the world. Have already spotted t… https://t.co/PIzOh9kolV

"Many expats go home for Christmas," Sanquest said, "and it could be the last time they see their friends and family before the referendum in May, so we are urging them to talk about why repealing the eighth amendment is important."

Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Laura Silver at laura.silver@buzzfeed.com.

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