Dr Laura Kelly

Project Title: Abortion activism in the Republic of Ireland, 1980s-1990s

In May 2018 in an historic referendum, the Irish public voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment of the constitution. The eighth amendment had been inserted into the Irish constitution in 1983 following a referendum on the issue. The wording of the amendment meant that in the eyes of the Irish state, the life of the unborn child was equal to the life of the mother and thus abortion was effectively outlawed. Since 1983, activists on both sides of the debate have fervently campaigned either for the repeal or retention of the eighth amendment, including an extremely bitter referendum campaign in 1992, before the campaigns became reenergised again following the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 and the emergence of the campaigns to repeal/protect the eighth amendment.

This project explores the earlier history of both pro-choice and pro-life campaigns in Ireland, in the era before repeal, the 1980s and 1990s. It utilises a ‘bottom-up’ approach, drawing primarily on oral history interviews, the archives of activist groups, and contemporary publications. It is principally concerned with activists, that is, individuals who are highly involved in and committed to the abortion debate, and focuses on groups such as the pro-choice Women’s Right to Choose Group and Women’s Information Network as well as pro-life groups such as the Pro-Life Campaign, Women Hurt by Abortion and Family Solidarity.

I will explore the social backgrounds, motivations, and experiences of individual men and women involved in pro-life and pro-choice activism. I also plan to investigate the strategies, campaigns and provision of healthcare and support services by activist groups. Finally, I hope to examine the impact of these groups on medical professionals, church hierarchies and the general public. Most significantly, my aim with this research is to reinstate the voices of individuals involved in two important social movements that have been largely excluded from the historical narrative.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: History

University: University of Strathclyde

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