The struggle, in utero : choice, control and trust in infertility treatment and abortion rights campaigning in Ireland
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In May 2018, the citizens of Ireland voted to repeal the 8th amendment of the Constitution, thus overturning the ban on abortion that had been in place for over a century. The vote paved the way for a more general debate on the relationship between women, reproductive healthcare and the state, and thereby exposed deeply entrenched struggles over the equation of womanhood with motherhood in the Irish Constitution. These were particularly pressing issues because the government was in the process of writing the first legislation on infertility treatment. This thesis provides insights into an extraordinary moment of transition in the Irish social and legal landscape, ripe with uncertainty, ambiguities and possibilities. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with staff in infertility clinics and pro-choice campaigners in Dublin between 2017 and 2018, I follow my research participants as they navigated these highly contested ‘reproductive borderlands’, a term I coin to describe the grey areas where boundaries around reproduction were drawn and redrawn. These processes centred around the question of who was recognised as a patient, something that was articulated through discourses on ‘control’ in the clinics and ‘choice’ in the campaign. My research participants presented these terms as clear-cut and unambiguous. The everyday practices in the clinics, however, revealed a more nuanced picture in which choice and control emerged as powerful rhetorical devices that were multifaceted and continuously under strain. In the face of this disjuncture, discourses on trust were a key repository for speaking about infertility and abortion, issues that were shrouded by interrelated layers of silence and stigma. Through an examination of the interface between trust and evidence in the clinics and trust and storytelling in the campaign, I develop the concept of ‘intimate violence’ to reflect on the difficult process of long-established silence being unsettled.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2026-11-12
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Restricted until 12th November 2026
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