The interactive story that shares what it’s like to cross borders for an abortion

4 min read

There's a lot of heated discussion around the right to an abortion, but not always a lot of empathy. Here's how Abortion Support Network uses a typeform to invite people to walk a mile in another's shoes.

4 min read
  • ChallengeAbortion Support Network needed to gain allies—and donations—for their vital work sponsoring safe abortions for those who need them.
  • SolutionA typeform that takes users through a thought experiment: what would you do if you needed to end a pregnancy, but the path to an abortion was complex and expensive?
  • ResultA sensitive piece of interactive storytelling that has been shared widely on social media, generated mailing list sign ups, and spread empathy for a significant human rights issue.

Content note: abortion, issues of bodily autonomy.  

Abortion is a reality of life

It's a decision everyone hopes they'll never have to make: what to do about an unwanted pregnancy. However, facing this choice is nothing if not normal. According to the World Health Organization, 3 in 10 pregnancies worldwide end in abortion.

In 2021, 41 European countries allow abortion when it's requested or on social grounds. However, in around nine of them, there are rigid requirements to get one, or services are significantly underfunded. Become pregnant in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Malta, Gibraltar, or Poland when you're not looking for children, and a painful decision becomes significantly more complicated. However, according to the WHO, the abortion rate is not significantly different in countries where abortion is highly restricted than in those where abortion is broadly legal. 

So what happens if your home country doesn't provide options? There are only two viable ways out. Access an unregulated abortion from whoever will perform it — clearly a dangerous idea. Or travel across borders to a private clinic — which is usually expensive. Many people chose to end a pregnancy because they can't afford a child. It is ironic that accessing an abortion can be a significant financial burden of its own. 

Funding an essential medical procedure

Activist Mara Clarke founded Abortion Support Network (ASN) on the conviction that, “I wanted an abortion, but it was too expensive” is not a reason to become a parent. ASN provides advice on where to travel for a safe abortion. Where necessary, they also give financial assistance and even accommodation support. 

Since October 2009, the charity has helped more than 6,000 people from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, and Gibraltar access this necessary medical procedure. In 2019, they partnered up with five other abortion funds in Europe to lauch Abortion Without Borders (Aborcja Bez Granic), which helps people in Poland access safe abortion too. 

ASN's work relies on public donations, so they needed to inspire people to rally behind this cause. However, abortion is often debated in the abstract. For some people, it would be a significant shift to think about abortion as a series of practical challenges. 

ASN worked with a Design consultant, Jean O'Brien, to create a typeform called “Saoirse's Story” (pronounced Sear-shah). It tells the story of a 28-year-old mother of two young kids who becomes pregnant at a complicated point in her life. It's an interactive narrative where you answer in Saoirse's place. 

Spotlighting the hidden obstacles 

Every choice you make when answering the typeform, no matter how logical it seems, could throw up new financial, logistical, or emotional obstacles. Friends prove unsupportive, “women’s charities” turn out to be pro-life groups, trips over air and sea are foiled by bureaucracy. Just look at the logic map! 

Saoirse's case is fictional, but as Mara explained, every challenge she faces was based on a real story from someone ASN has helped. She believed many more people would support ASN if they knew how gruelling it can be to cross borders for an abortion. 

“We wanted to help people understand how arbitrary a 12-week cut off [for an abortion in Ireland] is. A lot of people miss the deadline just because they get sent for a scan, and then have to pay hundreds of Euros to travel abroad to access healthcare.”

Mara Clarke

The typeform was widely shared on Facebook and Twitter. It also generated hundreds of new mailing list signups. But more gratifying than that were the comments: this story was really getting through to people. 

“We had a lot of good feedback from people who hadn't thought about what it really means to have to travel for an abortion. There's this feeling that you can just travel and it’ll be fine. But the typeform really demonstrates the obstacles that can come between choosing a termination and being able to access one.”

Mara Clarke

Here's a few examples of the comments on Saoirse's Story:

“I thought I knew what it might be like to have an unplanned pregnancy in a country with limited access to abortion – but I had no idea how many obstacles and hoops and dead ends a woman could encounter in her quest – her ordeal. ”

ASN Supporter

“I thought abortion was a settled issue in Ireland after the referendum. This interactive feature showed me how wrong I was.”

ASN Supporter

It's impossible to measure how many perspectives have shifted thanks to this story, and even if you could, opinions might seem like a fluffy success metric. However, it's worth noting that several of the obstacles Saoirse faces are exacerbated by unsupportive friends and family.

If someone has thought through Saoirse's situation, it could have significantly positive real life ramifications. Faced with a family member who needs an abortion, they might provide more empathy and practical support than they would've done before.

One day: safe and accessible abortion for all 

Mara is looking forwards to a time when there will be no more Saoirses going on lonely and expensive journeys. 

“Our ultimate goal is to go out of business! For everybody who needs an abortion to be able to get one in their home country. ”

Mara Clarke

Until that day comes, ASN will continue their essential work. 

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Header image: Emma Campbell Photo.

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