This is a chilling case for anyone using social media to speak out.
If you’ve ever wondered what a modern day Gilead might look like, may we introduce you to Tasmania?
Australia’s smallest state houses just 515,000 people in a handful of cities, a total population that is a touch more than Manchester, but less than Sheffield and Bradford.
And in January 2018 Tasmania’s only public abortion clinic quietly closed its doors.
Abortion was decriminalised in the state in 2013, and Tasmania as a whole has some of the country’s best and most comprehensive legislation around reproductive rights. Terminations can be performed up to 16 weeks gestation and beyond that with the permission of two doctors. Anti-abortion protests are illegal within 150 metres of clinics and facilities that provide terminations.
But the problem is not the law. It’s the access to services. The state’s only abortion clinic had been offering terminations through the public health system for 17 years, but in January shut down for good. No public hospitals in Tasmania perform surgical abortions. And private hospitals? Well, they might. If you could afford to pay $2,500 for the service, or approximately £1,410, according to figures provided to The Conversation by Family Planning Tasmania.
From February this year, Tasmanian women who couldn’t afford to access surgical abortions in the private hospital system were forced to make the journey via boat or plane to Melbourne.
Angela Williamson was one such woman. The 39-year-old mother of three travelled to Melbourne for an abortion in February. “I didn’t want to fly to Melbourne and I didn’t want to do this alone and I wanted the support of my family,” she told Australian current affairs program The Project today.
Williamson first Tweeted about the “disgrace” of abortion law in her state in January 2018. Then, on June 13, when a move to allow abortion in public hospitals was blocked by the Tasmanian government, she Tweeted that it was “most irresponsible… gutless and reckless.”
Just over a fortnight later, Williamson was sacked from her job as Public Policy and Government Relations Manager at Cricket Australia and Cricket Tasmania.
Williamson was Tweeting from her personal Twitter account, which identified her only as a ‘cricket advocate’. Her Tweets were impassioned and emotive, but, as Susan Fahey, the managing solicitor at Women’s Legal Service Tasmania tells Stylist, they are also “relatively tame in content.”
So why was she sacked? How can we live in a world where women are afraid to speak out on the issues they are passionate about for fear of losing their jobs? And how is it that, in 2018, men can lie, cheat and humiliate their employers on a global scale but a woman Tweets about the dire, dangerous state of abortion access in her own home and she loses her job?
Because that’s what has happened at Cricket Australia already this year. The Captain, Vice Captain and rising star bowler of the Australian cricket team cheated in a test match in South Africa. All three of them were suspended, but none of them lost their jobs.
Williamson did. In her termination letter from Cricket Australia’s Acting General Manager, obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald, it was noted that her Tweets were considered “inappropriate and contrary to Cricket Australia’s social media policy… While Cricket Australia has no issue with you expressing your political beliefs, the disparaging tone which you have used in your Tweets… is of significant concern.”
The letter concluded that Cricket Australia had received feedback from the Cricket Tasmania board that, due to her Tweets, Williamson’s was now “fundamentally inconsistent” with her role as a government liaison.
According to Williamson, the fact that she had had a termination was disclosed to her employer by a government employee. (“The Government hasn’t discussed any private material, and that is anything that wasn’t already in the public domain either in conversation and those haven’t been raised or discussed,” health minister Michael Ferguson said in a statement.) Williamson’s unceremonious sacking is now the subject of an investigation from Australia’s Fair Work Commission.
Women in Australia and around the world will be paying close attention to the outcome of that investigation.
Do we live in a world where women can’t comment on a Government policy that has directly impacted her for fear of losing her job? Or do we live in a world with free, unfettered speech? Or – quietly now, because this is the really scary bit – do we live in a world with a double standard? One rule for women, and another for the men?
“Women are prolific users of social media… Reproductive health is a topic which generally attracts significant pushback from those against it,” Fahey tells Stylist. “This is a chilling warning for anyone advocating for it, regardless of the tone or medium used, that their detractors will stop at nothing to silence them.”