Date of Degree

6-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Dána-Ain Davis

Committee Members

Dagmar Herzog

Murphy Halliburton

Katharine Dow

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

abortion, activism, medicine, technology, Ireland

Abstract

The successful legalization of abortion in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 is one of many recent political changes amidst ongoing global debates about the role of reproductive freedom in modern societies. This dissertation follows these changes through both clandestine and highly public social movement activism, deliberative and legislative political processes, and dynamic shifts in medical service provision over a three-year period from 2017 to 2020. I center the abortion pill as a medical and pharmaceutical technology that has been under-examined by scholars as an agent of change in the story of Ireland’s abortion debates. The emergence of non- profit organizations that mailed abortion pills to countries with strict abortion laws opened up new avenues for access to medication abortion beginning in the mid-2000s. As networks of activists in Ireland took up these pills as both direct-action projects and “technologies of protest,” debates around their safety and use familiarized the Irish public with this reproductive technology. Activist work also forced politicians to admit that abortions were already happening in Ireland, which ultimately turned the tide towards legalization, with the caveat that abortion should remain in the hands of doctors. Irish general practitioners with no experience providing abortion care then became the abortion providers to the nation. The dissertation uses an adapted “follow the thing” methodology to highlight the movement, visibility, and impact of a technology that dissolves into the body. Bringing social movement theory in conversation with studies of medical technologies, I recount a more comprehensive history of pro-choice activism in Ireland while showing the productive nature of tensions between activist movements.

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