Abortion in Medieval Ireland

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Gillian Kenny, a Research Associate at the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Abortion (or the lack of it) is back in the news in Ireland again following reports that a woman who claimed to be suicidal was denied an abortion and instead gave birth by caesarean at 25 weeks. The roots of lay and clerical anti-abortionism in Ireland would appear to be a modern phenomenon as medieval sources indicate a country in which abortion could be seen as a less severe offence by clerics, for example, than bearing an unwanted child or committing ‘fornication’.[1] In the middle ages women commonly underwent abortions in Ireland and the fact that they did so is reflected in numerous sources. Enshrined in the medieval Irish legal code is that fact that a wife could be divorced if she had procured an abortion for herself. This prohibition is part of a long list of grounds for divorce which included infanticide, flagrant infidelity, infertility, and bad management.[2] Thus the circumstances in which a man could divorce his wife were obviously quite severe but even still the wife was allowed to receive her marriage-portion back (even after an abortion).

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Women, Power, and Reproductive Healthcare Exhibition, Oregon, USA, Sept-Dec 2014

Women, Power and Reproductive Health

What? Women, Power, and Reproductive Healthcare Exhibition: Highlights from 19th and 20th Century Obstetrical and Gynecological Practice.

When? September – December 2014

Where? Main Library, third floor of BICC Building, Oregon Health and Science University’s Marquam Hill campus. (Directions here), .

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A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987 (2013)

Click to view on Amazon

Click to view on Amazon

Published November 2013. Includes coverage of unmarried mothers, the contraception debate of the 1970s and the abortion debate of the 1980s.

Fine Gael’s demise has been periodically predicted since 1933.  Yet it has survived, becoming the largest party in the state after the 2011 general election.  Drawing on interviews with key players and previously unused archival sources, this book offers a fascinating account of a critical period in Fine Gael’s history when the party was challenged to define its place in Irish politics.  The central role played by Declan Costello is disclosed for the first time.  Although he was never party leader, his Just Society proposals transformed Fine Gael by encouraging a new generation of socially-minded politicians, while his agenda for change paved the way for Garret FitzGerald.  Exploring the continuities and discontinuities between Costello’s Just Society and FitzGerald’s Constitutional Crusade, the book documents how the internal debate shaped the party and provides an insight into the origins of an identity crisis with which Fine Gael continues to struggle.

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