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Abortion politics and national identity : the X-case, Irishness and the nation-state

By Lisa Smyth


This thesis examines the shifts in political culture effected by the 'X case'\ud (1992), when the State issued an injunction to prevent a fourteen year old\ud pregnant and suicidal rape victim from travelling abroad for an abortion. In so\ud doing, this thesis focuses on the connection between discourses of Irish\ud nationhood, gender and sexuality in the fields of reproductive politics and\ud women's citizenship.\ud Abortion law and politics has had constitutional status in Ireland since 1983,\ud when the right to life of 'the unborn' was officially recognised as ostensibly\ud equal to that of women. This has situated debate on abortion access in an\ud explicitly national framework, since political sovereignty is invested in 'the\ud people'.\ud Shifting articulations of nationhood and abortion are examined in three specific\ud sites of political culture: the national press; political activist discourses; and\ud official legislative debates. The terms of debate in the press and the Oireachtas\ud (legislature) in particular are compared over time, from the 1983 campaign to\ud recognize a foetal right to life, to 1992, when the legitimacy and meaning of\ud constitutional abortion law was thrown into crisis by the X case.\ud Two specific reversals in the terms of post-X case abortion politics are\ud examined. Firstly the anti-abortion construction of the nation in familial terms\ud produced popular pressure in 1992 to allow for a right to abortion in the\ud interests of familial integrity. Secondly, the primary antagonism opposing Irish\ud 'pro-life' traditionalism to English 'pro-abortion' modernism was reversed both\ud by the anti-abortion lobby's key role in 'interning' X within the State, and by the\ud popular perception that feminist advocacy of abortion access would reassert the\ud integrity of the violated family. Significant continuities in the construction of\ud abortion law and politics in national terms are also analyzed

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