Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Lessons from Ireland

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Lessons from Ireland

Article excerpt


The years between 2008-2013 were a period of economic austerity and ideological turmoil in Ireland. Alongside the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died in 2012 due to complications resulting from her refused request for an abortion in an Irish hospital economic, political and ideological forces converged to promote a tipping point in the demand for full sexual and reproductive rights for women in Ireland. This paper examines the ways in which the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) responded to the tumultuous times and advanced women's reproductive freedom based on the principles of the universality of human rights. This case study shows how the action of the IFPA served in their pursuit of women's total equality and bodily autonomy.

By 2008, the economic prosperity Ireland experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s came to an end. The period known as the "Celtic Tiger," roughly 1990-2008, resulted in Ireland having one of the highest GNPs per capita in the European Union (McGinnity, Russell, Watson, Kingston, & Kelly, 2014, p. 3). The Celtic Tiger caused many international bodies to recognize Ireland as exemplary, both in terms of economic performance, and as a model of the most positive effects of globalization. In the ongoing years of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland achieved high economic growth rates, full employment and a significant rise in living standards, turning it from one of the poorest countries in Europe into one of the richest. These advances came in dramatic contrast to the rest of Europe, which experienced a slowing of the economy during that time.

However, these "good times" came to an end in 2008 when the Irish economy experienced a harsh fallout from the global economic crisis. The following approximately five-year period saw the implementation of an austerity plan from the government (BBC, 2010) aimed to cut billions of Euros. The severity of this plan was compounded by the bailout agreement made with Ireland and the International Monetary Fund and European Union (McGinnity et al., 2014). The agreement was scheduled to end in 2013. As a 2014 report by the Irish Equality Authority and the Economic and Social Research Institute states:

The crisis [in Ireland] was triggered by the global financial crisis and the bursting of the property bubble. This led to a banking crisis and subsequent fiscal crisis for the state, as tax revenue plunged and the cost of guaranteeing the banks escalated, and culminated in the intervention of the IMF [International Monetary Fund], European Central Bank [ECB] and European Commission [EC] to 'bail out' the Irish economy. (McGinnity et al., p. 4)

The IMF, ECB and EC, often referred to as the "Troika," insisted on furthering already implemented austerity measures that cut greatly needed welfare systems.

As the government moved to guarantee all the banking debt, huge amounts of private debt became massive amounts of public debt (Barry & Conroy, 2012, slide 2; Hardiman & Regan, 2013, p. 9). For example, significant cuts to health care services were among the many detrimental effects of the austerity measure implementation. Expenditure on health services, provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE), decreased by 11 per cent. As a National Economic and Social Council report (2013) states,

   The largest absolute falls in expenditure were in primary care and
   the medical card scheme (down 17 per cent, and accounting for 23
   per cent of this expenditure in 2008); grants to outside agencies
   (down 12 per cent, and representing 27 per cent of this spend in
   2008); and clinical spending (down 20 per cent, and representing 7
   per cent of this expenditure in 2008). (p. 97)

Such cuts further entrenched a neoliberal global capitalist ideology, like those adopted by the World Bank and IMF in the 1980s in the form of Structural Adjustment Policies, that shifts public goods and services, such as health care provision, from mostly public to private responsibility. …

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