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Early reports heralded the development of abortion pills as promising a reproductive revolution. Some twenty-five years on, this paper considers the extent to which this promise has been fulfilled in the context of the Irish Republic. It focuses in particular on the work of two online collectives, Women on Web and Women Help Women. Drawing on a small number of interviews with activists, support groups, service providers, doctors and government officials, the paper assesses, first, how far abortion pills have empowered women and, second, their offer of privacy. It argues that while home use of pills has had enormous importance in furthering each of these goals and, more generally, for women’s health, it does not offer a panacea for current deficiencies in reproductive health care. The empowerment offered by abortion pills is necessarily precarious and partial, with the privacy offered by the pills operating not just as part of that empowerment but also as a significant limitation on it. It is suggested that privacy readily collapses into secrecy, feeding a carefully choreographed silence regarding abortion, which allows the state to ignore its existence and thus its responsibilities for women’s reproductive health.
Speaker: Prof. Sally Sheldon, Kent University
Sally Sheldon is a Professor of Law at Kent University. She has published widely in the area of health care ethics and law, including a book on abortion law ('Beyond Control: Medical Power and Abortion law', 1997) and a co-edited collection of essays on Feminist Perspectives on Health Care Law (1998). Together with Richard Collier of Newcastle Law School, she has also co-authored a socio-legal study of fatherhood ('Fragmenting Fatherhood', 2008) and co-edited 'Fathers' Rights activism and Law Reform (2007). She has recently finished one project on the regulation of medical abortion (using pills) and has begun a historical study of the Abortion Act (1967).
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1.00pm - 3.00pmWednesday 2nd November 2016
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