Reproducing Irishness: Race, Gender, and Abortion Law

2005 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 17: 365-404

41 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2014  

Ruth Fletcher

Queen Mary, University of London

Date Written: December 1, 2005


English Abstract: This article draws on Nira Yuval-Davis's theory of gender and nation and on Etienne Balibar's theory of race and nationalism to develop the argument that race is one significant means by which the legal regime of the nation-state differentiates, values, and organizes women's reproductive contributions. I show how Irishness is a racial as well as a gendered national concept, and I trace the ways in which race has been legally mobilized to stigmatize and regulate certain kinds of abortion decisions in the Republic of Ireland. In doing so, I draw in particular on the cases of C (1997) and "Baby" O (2002), and on three interviews with crisis pregnancy counsellors and their discussion of the state's treatment of abortion-seeking migrant women. Although race is now being signified increasingly in terms of skin colour and used to exclude certain migrants from Irishness, race has also been mobilized as a supplement to nationalism in the abortion politics of the 1980s and 1990s. Irishness has been gendered and racialized in different ways through abortion law as it has shifted from an opposition with post-colonial Britishness, through internal hierarchies that celebrate the reproduction of some Irish women over others, to an emerging opposition with migrant Blackness. These shifts reveal that post-1983 Irish abortion law has always been racialized but that the concept of race has changed as the nation-state moves to value the reproduction of some women over others.

French Abstract: Le present article se fonde sur la theorie du genre et de la nation de Nira Yuval-Davis ainsi que sur la theorie de la race et du nationalisme de Etienne Balibar pour etayer I'argument que la race est un des moyens significatifs par lesquels le regime juridique de I'Etat-nation differencie, evalue et organise les contributions des femmes a la reproduction. L'auteure demontre comment le statut d'Irlandais-e est un concept national a la fois racialise et genre et retrace les methodes par lesquelles la race a ete recuperee par le droit pour stigmatiser et reglementer certains types de decisions d'avortement dans la Republique d'Irlande. Ce faisant, l'auteure analyse les arrets dans les affaires C. et « Baby » O ainsi que trois entrevues realisees a Cork, a Dublin et a Limerick, portant sur le traitement reserve par I'Etat aux femmes immigrantes cherchant a se procurer un avortement. Bien que la race soit maintenant comprise de plus en plus en termes de couleur de peau en vue d'exclure certain-es immigrant-es du statut d'Irlandais-es authentique, la race a aussi ete utilisee comme complement au nationalisme dans les politiques d'avortement des annees 1980 et 1990. Le statut d'Irlandais-e a ete genre et racialise de differentes fafons en matière d'avortement suivant le deplacement d'une opposition a la Grande-Bretagne post-coloniale, a travers des hierarchies internes qui celebrent la reproduction de certaines femmes irlandaises plus que d'autres, vers une opposition emergeante a immigration noire. Ces deplacements revelent que le droit irlandais en matière d'avortement post-1983 a toujours ete racialise, mais que le concept de race change selon que I'Etat-nation cherche a valoriser la reproduction de certaines femmes plutot que d'autres.

Keywords: abortion, migration, race, gender, Ireland, asylum seekers, Travellers

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Ruth, Reproducing Irishness: Race, Gender, and Abortion Law (December 1, 2005). 2005 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 17: 365-404. Available at SSRN:

Ruth Fletcher (Contact Author)

Queen Mary, University of London ( email )

Mile End Rd.
London, E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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