10 Jan 2022 09:00

Ireland after the Eighth Amendment: A Critical Exploration of Provision and Access to Abortion in Cork, Ireland Based on Service User and Service Provider Perspectives

The first review of the Irish abortion legislation was set to take place before the end of 2021. Officially, the government has started the process before the end of last year, only just fulfilling the legal requirement. Yet very little political progress is made regarding the evaluation of how the law works in practice and any issues around access and provision that should be improved.

Abortion has been legally available in Ireland since January 2019. Following the repeal of the constitutional ban on abortion, termination is now permitted during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, in later cases where the pregnant woman’s life or health is at risk, and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality (Health Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018). This legal, cultural, social, and political change in Ireland provides an opportunity to move away from the framing of abortion as a moral issue and to explore a more balanced consideration of abortion provision as policy, practice and lived experience for both service user and provider. The COVID-19 pandemic further affects abortion care provision. For the duration of the pandemic, the Irish government has made abortion available via telemedicine for pregnancies under 9 weeks’ gestation. The review of the legislation provides an opportunity for more public engagement with abortion politics and to improve the current policies.

My PhD research in Applied Social Studies at University College Cork, under supervision of Dr. Máire Leane and Dr. Jacqui O’Riordian, examines how pregnant people and abortion service providers experience abortion access and provision in Ireland and explores how COVID-19 has changed issues around access and opened up new ways of engaging with telemedicine and digital consultancy. It critically examines how abortion legislation in Ireland works in practice and to what extent abortion governance has moved towards reproductive justice. The research project is generously supported by a 2021 IRC Postgraduate Scholarship.

The start of my PhD in April 2020 was at the height of various COVID-19 restrictions and required rapid adjustments to the original research plan as I had been setting it up with my supervisors since September 2019. The pandemic has had a significant impact on sexual and reproductive health around the world and it has also propelled a notable scholarly engagement with the topic, as well as more commitment to providing free and online access to resources and information. Therefore, I adjusted my research to incorporate digital qualitative methods to critically examine how the digital and telemedicine engagement which has emerged in response to COVID-19 restrictions impact abortion access and provision.

A reproductive justice framework provides a useful conceptual approach to inquire where pregnant people and abortion service providers are positioned in Ireland at the moment. A reproductive justice framework identifies discourses and practices that reinforce a normative moral framing of abortion and reveal how such a framing is constructed and maintained through practices of governance. With a commitment to intersectionality, it exposes the various positionalities that impact pregnant people’s experiences with abortion care and how the ability to exercise the right to abortion is differentially distributed. Under the recent circumstances of telemedicine engagement with abortion care due to COVID-19, it is necessary to take into account how these new ways of experiencing abortion care (provision) tie in with reproductive justice. By giving voice to the people who directly access or provide abortion care, a reproductive justice framework creates a more nuanced perspective on abortion and it critically appraises the nature and quality of abortion care in Ireland. This approach empowers previously marginalised voices of women, pregnant people and abortion providers and contributes to more situated knowledges of experiences with abortion. In doing so, this framework ensures that research outcomes can go beyond academia alone and contribute to improvements in healthcare access and policies.

In addition to interviewing people about their experiences, I am collecting stories and reading experiences in the online data sources that already exist. Storytelling has been an integral part of the long history of activism and advocacy for abortion rights in Ireland, therefore the material is rich and plentiful. The Digital Repository Ireland’s ‘Archiving the 8th Project’ is an immensely useful and rich data source, and an interesting ‘place’ where stories and experiences are saved and shared. I look forward to seeing the project come along and engaging with the archive as a resource of histories and living stories.

To find out more about my research or in case you would like to share your own experience with abortion access or provision with me, please contact me at cwaltz@ucc.ie.

Charlotte Waltz is a PhD student in Applied Social Studies at University College Cork. She obtained her MSc in Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. Her thesis ‘Moral Regimes and Public Discourses: Abortion Activism in Cork, Ireland’; focused on the pro-choice and pro-life activism in preparation of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment in May 2018.

Her PhD research examines how women and abortion service providers experience provision of and access to abortion in Ireland and explores which factors influence those experiences. Her PhD research has been awarded a 2021 Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship, a 2021 Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Scholarship, a 2019 VSBFonds Scholarship and 2019 Hendrik Mullerfonds Scholarship.

You can contact Charlotte via email: cwaltz@ucc.ie.