LONDON — As travelers board flights to Ireland and Northern Ireland for the Christmas holiday, they are finding themselves in the company of fliers toting a message on their luggage tags about the journey women on the island must make to have an abortion.
The white luggage tags — sold by an organization based in London, where Irish women often travel to receive the procedure — bear the message: “HEALTHCARE NOT AIRFARE #Reapealthe8th #TrustWomen.”
The tags refer to the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution, which in 1983 banned abortion in nearly all cases and committed the nation to the principle that a pregnant woman and her fetus have an “equal right to life.”
But next year, Ireland is expected to vote in a referendum that could give the government the freedom to each restrictions on abortion.
When the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign offered the luggage tags online more than a week ago, it sold 250 in the first 48 hours, it said. By Thursday evening, it had sold 550 of the tags for three pounds, or $4, each, plus shipping costs. The organization says it will donate the money to the support group Terminations for Medical Reasons Ireland.
Travelers who snapped them up were sharing their support online.
“Purchased!” Sarah Walsh posted on Twitter. “Unfortunately still needed, until we secure out basic human rights.”
Abortions are allowed in Northern Ireland only if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. Earlier this year, the British government agreed to fund abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland.
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said it seized the opportunity to spark a conversation about the fact that women must leave the island to have abortions in countries like Britain and the Netherlands.
“If somebody is on that flight going through a really difficult decision and forced to travel, they can see a really visible sign of support,” said Hannah Little, an organizer for the group, who came up with the idea.
Figures from Britain’s National Health Service showed that more than 3,400 women gave Irish addresses when they visited British abortion clinics in 2015.
“It’s weird that when we go home for Christmas, we have less rights than in our adopted country,” said Cara Sanquest, another organizer for the London-based campaign.
Public opinion has turned against the Eighth Amendment after cases like that of a 14-year-old rape victim who was prevented from traveling to Britain for an abortion in 1992, and that of Savita Halappanavar. Ms. Halappanavar’s repeated requests to terminate her pregnancy were refused after she learned that her 17-week-old fetus would not live.
She died of sepsis after miscarrying in a Galway hospital in 2012.
“Thinking of all the women who have to travel, hopefully the last Christmas they’ll have to,” Fiona McEvoy said on Twitter.
“At Stansted heading home for Christmas thinking about the 11 Irish women every day forced to make the same journey bc governments across Ireland refuse to legislate for health care at home,” said another Twitter user, Caitlin de Jode.
Kate Stephanie, 24, a psychotherapy and counseling student at Roehampton University in London, bought one of the luggage tags for herself and a few extra as Christmas presents for family members before she returned home on Wednesday.
“We’re still secretive as a nation and don’t want to talk about uncomfortable things,” Ms. Stephanie said by telephone on Friday. But she hoped that the luggage tags would, indeed, spark some conversation.
“I definitely got a few looks at it and people were nudging and point at it,” she said.
This, she hoped, would lead to a change in the law. “The amendment’s saying, we don’t trust you,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking for a nation to say we don’t trust you to make the right decision.”