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Abstract

The years between 2008-2013 were a period of economic austerity and ideological turmoil in Ireland. Alongside the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died in 2012 due to complications resulting from her refused request for an abortion in an Irish hospital, economic, political and ideological forces converged to promote a tipping point in the demand for full sexual and reproductive rights for women in Ireland. Within this temporal moment, a “convergence of various economic, political and ideological forces that make possible the emergence of specific kinds of practices” (Barndt, 2008, p. 36), the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) responded with a call to action based on human rights discourse. Theirs was a unique and compelling approach for social change. While most governmental advisors at the time were calling for reductions in social services, the IFPA spoke out for the necessity of increased government support for women’s health. Specifically, they shed light on the restrictive and discriminatory treatment of women and their sexual and reproductive rights by pointing to the discrepancies in Irish law, service provision and international human rights covenants to which Ireland was a signatory.

This paper examines the ways in which the Irish Family Planning Association responded to the tumultuous times and advanced women’s reproductive freedom based on the principles of the universality of human rights. Using the IFPA as a case study, my work employs a content analysis of over 400 pages of documents including IFPA generated annual reports, submissions and publications between 2008-2013 (inclusive) to investigate how, in this particular “moment,” advocacy based on notions of human rights can advance women’s sexual and reproductive health. In this paper, I will discuss two major findings that emerged from my examination of IFPA documents. They are: a) the ways in which the IFPA framed the current state of sexual and reproductive health for women in Ireland in relation to international human rights conventions and treatises to which Ireland is a signatory as a response to the ambiguous and discriminatory nature of Irish law and practice regarding sexual and reproductive health; and b) the ways in which the IFPA called on the Irish state to take responsibility for the provision of health care services and protection of women’s bodily integrity in light of the intense burden which economically disadvantaged women in Ireland suffered as a part of the implementation of post-2008 recession austerity measures.

Note on the Author

Dr. Tanya Bakhru holds a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland (2007). She is currently an Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Science at San Jose State University, California. Her areas of interest include feminist critiques of globalization, reproductive health and justice, and transnational women’s health.

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