The Silencing of Women: The Irish Abortion Laws and Religion

By Wright, Rachael | Journal of International Women's Studies, July 2005 | Go to article overview

The Silencing of Women: The Irish Abortion Laws and Religion


Wright, Rachael, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

This essay attempts to look at the unfortunate circumstances that surround women in Ireland in regards to abortion. Rather than looking at the pro- and anti-life arguments which are commonly discussed when approaching abortion issues, I have chosen to concentrate on the legal and ethical matters in Ireland that seem to have control over Irish women's bodies and consequently their personhood. Through the investigation of the changing Irish laws brought about by the Grogan and X cases, it is possible to understand how religious and patriarchal sentiment has continued to suppress women's personal choice in regards to abortion. By looking at the support for Roman Catholic morals in Ireland, I suggest that Irish women remain in a weak position with regards to equal life choices due to the fear of public shame that is associated with abortion and aim to show how as a result their voices have been silenced.

Keywords: abortion, Ireland, religion

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If the self is an individual's awareness of a unique identity, the 'person' is society's confirmation of that identity as of social significance. (La Fontaine, qtd. in Carrithers et al. 124)

Since society considers a person to require an identity and in turn a self in order to attain citizenship and personhood, the argument of anti- and pro-abortion campaigns concern when actual personhood is truly developed and therefore certifiable: at moment of conception, quickening or after birth? This is the argument commonly made regarding abortion. However, in this essay I want to highlight the issue of a woman's own fight to personhood; this subject is often lost in the battle over who controls women's reproduction in regards to abortion. I shall argue that despite the broadcasted equality women are said to receive within the political sphere of society, for example in employment rights, it would seem that women are not recognised as responsible, rational adults regarding their reproductive lives, which is the single most private concern of many women. The appropriate question to ask is: if women do not control their choices about abortion, who does, and through which methods?

I shall investigate how in the case of Ireland, anti-abortion activists have manipulated the religious foundations of the Roman Catholic Church in order to influence public opinion on abortion law processes, which have in turn oppressed women's rights to express independent choice about reproduction. In order to do this I must first describe the past and present abortion laws within Ireland with regard to the restrictions they place on women; I shall introduce the X and Grogan cases as key moments highlighting the difficulty of such laws. By understanding the legal situation it is then possible to discuss how the position of Ireland as an extremely religious state has applied moral principles to explain the rights and wrongs of abortion, and how this has reinforced an anti-abortion societal attitude. I shall underline in brief the hidden controls religious institutions have in society and how pro-life groups such as the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) have used such influences as their line of attack against liberating abortion laws. In conclusion I shall show through consideration of the above factors how women have been forced into keeping their views about abortion hidden.

How does the Irish legal system constrain the women's rights regarding reproductive choice? The answer lies in the provision of the abortion law. Since there are people who regard abortion as murder, abortion cannot be recognized as a private matter between consenting adults, so the law is enlisted to provide set protocol on the issue (Oppenheimer 47). However it must be understood that any legal practice regarding abortion can have a repressive effect on women's individual and bodily rights. This is because the law operates by constructing its own image of the legal subject it seeks to regulate, one that is based upon the reasonable man (Sheldon 20). …

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