Analysing the abortion rights debate as a question of ‘body theory’
Aideen O' Shaughnessy
Aideen O’ Shaughnessy is a student in the M.A. Gender Studies (Research) programme at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She holds a B.A. (Hons) Degree from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland in Sociology and French. During her bachelor degree she completed an academic exchange, studying at the Institute of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Lille 1, France. Her research interests include reproductive rights politics, theories of pregnant embodiment, anti-natalist and maternal feminisms, and gender theory. She is particularly interested in the Irish abortion rights debate and the campaign to Repeal the 8th amendment, contributing several briefings on this issue to the MTV Staying Alive Foundation Blog.
Reproductive freedom or the ‘right to choose’ was one of the linchpins of second-wave feminism in Europe and in the USA, in the second half of the twentieth century. However, more than forty years after the passing of Roe v. Wade1, abortion remains illegal in a number of European countries, while rollbacks on reproductive rights are threatened by the new political administration in the United States. The abortion issue has long been posited as a feminist struggle against male ownership of women’s2 bodies and against sexual and religious conservatism. In this article, I take an alternative viewpoint, analysing the abortion debate as a question of body theory. Using empirical data from the Irish abortion rights debate, I analyse how the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements in Ireland construct and represent pregnant embodiment in differential ways, asking whether these diverse conceptualisations variously underpin (anti-) abortion ideologies. I argue that engaging with the abortion rights debate within the framework of body theory provides useful analytical tools for deconstructing current discourse, whilst also making space for the articulation of new perspectives from the point of view of the embodied pregnant subject.