The Irish Abortion Journey, 1920-2018: a history of female health and harm

Lindsey Earner-Byrne and Diane Urquhart show status quo loves silence and ambiguity

A ballot box is carried from Gola Island, off the Donegal coast, during the Irish abortion referendum on May 24th, 2018. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

A ballot box is carried from Gola Island, off the Donegal coast, during the Irish abortion referendum on May 24th, 2018. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

What is the history of this island when people, rather than nations, states or religion are put at the centre of the story? What is our history when you put the lives of the female population and their reproductive health at the centre? It is a history of scalding baths and falling down stairs in order to end a pregnancy. It is being doubled over in pain on the floor of Manchester airport after having an abortion. It is bringing your dead child through Dublin port in a cooler bag. It is dying unnecessarily.

Two historians, Lindsey Earner-Byrne and Diane Urquhart, have brought together decades of their own and others’ research on the history of gender in order to explain this story. In the summer of 2018, in the wake of the Repeal Campaign, they applied a historical lens to make sense of what they had just witnessed. In this concise, fluent and often devastating book, they ask why were the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland anomalous in the so-called “developed” world, as both refused to legislate for abortion.

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