Rights Versus Rites? Catholic Women and Abortion Access in Northern Ireland

  • Claire PiersonEmail author


Pierson’s chapter addresses a topical and still fiercely contested issue for Irish Catholics. Gendered conceptualisations of nationalism present resonant imagery of women as mothers of the nation, often stereotyped in Irish nationalism through the highly Catholic image of the Virgin Mary. Viewing women’s key contributions to national identity through the role of motherhood creates assumed notions of nurturing and self-sacrificing identity. Abortion and its assumed rejection of motherhood crosses boundaries of ideal womanhood and as such is presented as abhorrent to Irish Catholic nationalism and to Irishness more widely on the island of Ireland. This chapter calls on liberal theological conceptions of Catholicism such as that voiced by Catholics for Choice to envision how abortion stigma could be broken down in Northern Ireland.


  1. Aiken ARA, Digol I., Trussell, J., & Gomperts, R. (2017, May 16). Self reported outcomes and adverse events after medical abortion through online telemedicine: Population based study in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. British Medical Journal, 357.Google Scholar
  2. Aretxaga, B. (1997). Shattering silence: Women, nationalism, and political subjectivity in Northern Ireland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ashe, F. (2006). The Virgin Mary connection: Reflecting on feminism and Northern Irish politics. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 9(4), 573–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bloomer, F., & Hoggart, L. (2016). Abortion policy—Challenges and opportunities. Briefing Paper, Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series. RAISE/ NI Assembly.Google Scholar
  5. Bloomer, F., & O’Dowd, K. (2014). Restricted access to abortion in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland: Exploring abortion tourism and barriers to legal reform. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(4), 366–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bloomer, F. K., O’Dowd, K., & Macleod, C. (2017). Breaking the silence on abortion: The role of adult community abortion education in fostering resistance to norms. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 19(7), 709–722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brewer, J. D., Higgins, G. I., & Teeney, F. (2011). Religion, civil society, and peace in Northern Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brubaker, R. (2012). Religion and nationalism: Four approaches. Nations and Nationalism, 18(1), 2–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Byrne, S., & McCulloch, A. (2012). Gender, representation and power-sharing in post-conflict institutions. International Peacekeeping, 19(5), 565–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cannold, Leslie. (2002). Understanding and responding to anti-choice women-centred strategies. Reproductive Health Matters, 10(19), 171–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chong, A., & Troy, J. (2011). A universal sacred mission and the Universal Secular Organization: The Holy See and the United Nations. Politics Religion and Ideology, 12(3), 335–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clements, B. (2014). Religion and the sources of public opposition to abortion in Britain: The role of ‘Belonging’, ‘Behaving’ and ‘Believing’. Sociology, 48(2), 369–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cockburn, C. (1998). The space between us: Negotiating gender and national identities in conflict. London: Zed books.Google Scholar
  14. Department of Health (England and Wales). (2017). Abortion statistics 2016. London: Department of Health (England and Wales).Google Scholar
  15. Durham, M. (2005). Abortion, gay rights and politics in Britain and America: A comparison. Parliamentary Affairs, 58(1), 89–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eig, J. (2014). The birth of the pill: How four crusaders reinvented sex and launched a revolution. London: Pan Macmillan. Google Scholar
  17. Gilmartin, N. (2015). Negotiating new roles: Irish Republican women and the politics of conflict transformation. International Journal of Feminist Politics, 17(1), 58–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gray, A. M., (2017, June). Research update: Attitudes to abortion in Northern Ireland. ARK: Ulster University.Google Scholar
  19. Guns, W. (2013). The influence of the feminist anti-abortion NGOs as norm setters at the level of the UN: Contesting UN norms on reproductive autonomy, 1995–2005. Human Rights Quarterly, 35(3), 673–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hansard. (2007, 22 October, Monday). Official Report of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Northern Ireland Assembly.Google Scholar
  21. Hansard. (2013, 12 March, Tuesday). Official Report of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 83(2). Northern Ireland Assembly.
  22. Hulme, D. (2009). The millennium development goals (MDGs): A short history of the world’s biggest promise. Manchester: University of Manchester Brooks World Poverty Institute.Google Scholar
  23. Kennedy, R., Pierson, C., & Thomson, J. (2016). Challenging identity hierarchies: Gender and consociational power-sharing. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 18(3), 618–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kozlowska, I., Béland, D., & Lecours, A. (2016). Nationalism, religion, and abortion policy in four Catholic societies. Nations and Nationalism, 22(4), 824–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McCormick, L. (2015). “No sense of wrongdoing”: Abortion in belfast 1917–1967. Journal of Social History, 49(1), 125–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McGarry, J., & O’Leary, B. (1995). Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken images. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. McMurtrie, S. M., García, S. G., Wilson, K. S., Diaz-Olavarrieta, C., & Fawcett, G. M. (2012). Public opinion about abortion-related stigma among Mexican Catholics and implications for unsafe abortion. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 118, S160–S166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McNeilly, K. (2015). Human rights and Northern Ireland’s abortion law: Understanding the high court decision. Rights NI, Available at: Accessed 5 September 2017.
  29. Minkenberg, M. (2002). Religion and public policy institutional, cultural, and political impact on the shaping of abortion policies in western democracies. Comparative Political Studies, 35(2), 221–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mitchell, C. (2004). Is Northern Ireland abnormal? An extension of the sociological debate on religion in modern Britain. Sociology, 38(2), 237–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morgan, L. M. (2014). Claiming Rosa Parks: Conservative Catholic bids for ‘rights’ in contemporary Latin America. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(10), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Perry, C. (2011). School Governors. Belfast: Northern Ireland Assembly.Google Scholar
  33. Pierson, C., & Bloomer, F. (2017). Macro- and micro-political vernaculizations of rights: Human rights and abortion discourses in Northern Ireland. Health and Human Rights, 19(1), 173–186.Google Scholar
  34. Reproductive Health Law and Policy Advisory Group. (2016). Moving forward from judicial review on abortion in situations of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime: The experience of healthcare professionals. Reproductive Health Law and Policy Advisory Group Report.Google Scholar
  35. Taylor, R. (Ed.). (2009). The injustice of a consociational solution to the Northern Ireland problem. In Consociational theory: McGarry and O’Leary and the Northern Ireland conflict. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Thomson, J. (2016). Explaining gender equality difference in a devolved system: The case of abortion law in Northern Ireland. British Politics, 11(3), 371–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tonge, J., Braniff, M., Hennessey, T., McAuley, J., & Whiting, S. (2014). The democratic unionist party: From protest to power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Williams, D. K. (2013). No happy medium: The role of Americans’ ambivalent view of fetal rights in political conflict over abortion legalization. Journal of Policy History, 25(01), 42–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK

Personalised recommendations