From a constitutional ban to reproductive justice? Trans/formations of past and present abortion governance in Ireland

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Waltz, Charlotte
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University College Cork
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Following the Repeal of the constitutional ban on abortion in May 2018, abortion care in Ireland was implemented on 1 January 2019. Under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, abortion is now legally available during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, in later cases where the pregnant person’s life or health is at risk, and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Abortion provision remains criminalised for medical practitioners outside of those parameters. The legal, cultural, social, and political shift in governance after the repeal of the constitutional ban provides fertile ground to move away from moral understandings of abortion and to explore abortion care as policy, practice and lived experience for both service user and provider. This thesis examines the emergence of abortion care practices and norms under the transformed post-Repeal governance framework from 2019 to 2021, the period which is subject to the Government Review of the Health Act 2018. Drawing on existing publicly available information and ethnographic fiction, this thesis unpacks how abortion governance is put into practice and how this shapes service users' and providers’ engagement with abortion care in Ireland. It critically examines how governance under the new legal context in Ireland is translated into the provision of abortion care, which systemic inequities and contexts shape access and provision, and evaluates to what extent abortion governance has moved towards reproductive justice. The conceptual framework develops and employs the concepts of reproductive justice (Ross, 2017; Ross and Solinger, 2017), reproductive governance (Morgan and Roberts 2012), moral governance (Mishtal, 2015) and feminist understandings of biopower (De Zordo and Marchesi, 2015; Foucault, 1997a; 1997b; 1995; 1990). Together they combine to enable a situated reading of past and present abortion governance in Ireland and inform the entire research process. Abortion governance is historically contextualised through a reproductive justice frame and different ways of knowing and experiencing abortion care are foregrounded throughout the thesis. The methodological approach develops and deploys creative feminist and reproductive justice methods (Davis and Craven, 2016; Günel, Varma and Watanabe, 2020; Ross and Solinger, 2017). The methodology incorporates a reflexive and creative writing approach which seeks to capture embodied experiences with abortion care (Ingridsdotter and Kallenberg, 2018). Ethno-fictional vignettes provide the means to illustrate embodied experiences of service users and providers that can be difficult for more dominant academic approaches to capture, and to critically appraise the first three years of abortion care provision from a reproductive justice perspective. As such, this thesis presents a new way of analysing and understanding contemporary abortion care in Ireland. The research identifies four main post-Repeal governance mechanisms: the legal framework under the Health Act 2018, controlling of information and maintaining a culture of secrecy, framing of abortion as exceptional, and exclusionary and delaying processes of governance change. These mechanisms demonstrate central continuities between pre- and post-Repeal abortion governance, despite the transformative moment of the Repeal referendum in 2018. The legalisation of abortion does not guarantee an expansion of considerations of embodied experiences with care, nor does it significantly transform moral governance mechanisms of the past. The ethno-fictional vignettes give voice and visibility to often hidden experiences of abortion service provision and use. This unique approach to conducting research on abortion provision in Ireland reveals that abortion access and provision continue to be problematic and inequitable and highlights how lived engagements with care are intricately tied up with governance. This thesis thus shows that post-Repeal abortion governance in Ireland does not reflect reproductive justice and, moreover, impedes further transformations towards it.
Abortion politics , Moral governance , Reproductive justice
Waltz, C. N. M. 2023. From a constitutional ban to reproductive justice? Trans/formations of past and present abortion governance in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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