Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner and public health services agency are reportedly investigating how the private data of a patient who had an abortion may have landed in the hands of a harasser.
In an anonymous Facebook post, a woman from Ireland said that after she had a medical abortion and an internal scan at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, someone left her a suspicious voicemail telling her to schedule another scan. The individual who left the message knew both her name and her address, and later sent a text message with directions to their office, according to the woman’s posts. But Irish news site the Journal reports that the caller did not actually work for the hospital, and it is not known how they allegedly obtained her private information.
In the post, the woman said she called the hospital for more information about the second scan. The hospital, however, said it was unaware of the follow-up messages she had received. Upon calling back the number behind the voicemail, the person who answered claimed he was from My Options, the name of a service provided by Ireland’s Health Service Executive, which offers information and support for unplanned pregnancies. The man then allegedly yelled at her and said what she did was “disgusting.”
The incident detailed in the anonymous Facebook post illustrates yet another way in which anti-choice harassment efforts attempt to mirror the behavior of abortion clinics—in this case, by allegedly adopting an almost identical name as a government program and suggesting the woman come in for what seems like a routine medical check-in. Some of these tactics are legal, but several government entities are looking into a breach of privacy—how this organization allegedly got the name, address, and phone number of the patient.
“We are aware of a number of websites and ads that are appearing in search results and social media that claim to be providing unplanned pregnancy support services under variations of the myoptions name,” an HSE spokesperson told The Journal. “Some unreliable agencies may not be upfront about their intentions and may try to influence a person’s decision.”
While “My Options” is a service provided by Dublin’s Health Service Executive, the HSE says third-party groups have taken on similar names to mislead others. One example is MyOptions.website, a URL that appears to be connected to a crisis pregnancy center. The number shown in the screenshot of the text message sent to the woman in Dublin matches the phone number on MyOptions.website.
Typically crisis pregnancy centers are fake clinics that attempt to pressure women into not having abortions.
The woman’s experience and a screenshot of the text were shared anonymously in a private Facebook group, which were then shared on Twitter and Reddit. Suzanne Burke, an admin of the Facebook group Mas Who Drink (Original), sent Gizmodo a screenshot of the post, which was shared anonymously in the group on January 30. At the time of writing, the group has 39,000 members. Burke said over Messenger that the group is a place for women to discuss what’s going on in their lives, and that some topics are more serious than others. When someone wants to share an issue anonymously with the group, they message an admin to post it for them. Burke said she was the one who spoke with the woman who shared her experience being harassed by the anti-choice individual.
Ireland’s Minister for Health, Simon Harris, “asked the HSE to investigate the alleged breach of patient information,” a spokesperson for his office told the Journal, adding that Harris “has been quite clear abortion services should be viewed as a normalised part of the health service and women accessing that service should not be subjected to any intimidation or harassment.”
The Data Protection Commissioner is reportedly aware of the incident as well, and told the Journal that it is “currently” investigating the matter. The Independent also reported that the independent EU data protection office is investigating a possible breach.
Technology has served as a handy vehicle to lure in and harass vulnerable women. Anti-choicers have gamed Google Maps, paid for online advertisements in order to appear higher up in searches for abortion clinics (a strategy that worked tremendously), created fake wifi networks to target women at these clinics, and spoofed email addresses to send hateful and racist messages to donors of abortion funds.
We have reached out the Health Service Executive and the Data Protection Commissioner for comment on the reported investigations. We will update this story when we receive a response. A person responding to the email listed on MyOptions.website failed to answer any questions via email regarding the allegations.