Maternity and Moral Migration, 1920s–1960s

  • Lindsey Earner-Byrne
  • Diane Urquhart
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


Since the legalisation of abortion in Britain in 1967, an estimated 200,000 women have travelled from the island of Ireland to England for the termination of a pregnancy. However, the origins of the Irish abortion trail are at least a century old and lie in women emigrating to Britain to flee the moral intolerance that pertained in Ireland towards unmarried mothers and their offspring. The emigration of Irish pregnant single mothers since at least the 1920s allowed both states and conservative commentators to boast of low illegitimacy rates and high moral purity. This chapter traces this early history and explores moral migration in the context of growing concern regarding the impact of repeated pregnancies and maternal health more generally. In particular, the tension that developed between contemporary concerns for public morality and women’s health is assessed.


Abortion trail Termination Morality Emigration Single mothers Illegitimacy 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lindsey Earner-Byrne
    • 1
  • Diane Urquhart
    • 2
  1. 1.School of HistoryUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.Institute of Irish StudiesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK

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