Sexuality Policy Watch

Macro-and Micro-Political Vernaculizations of Rights: Human Rights and Abortion Discourses in Northern Ireland

By Claire Pierson (Manchester Metropolitan University, Interdisciplinary Studies)

How abortion is dealt with in law and policy is shaped through the multiple political and societal discourses on the issue within a particular society. Debate on abortion is constantly in flux, with progressive and regressive movements witnessed globally. This paper examines the translation of human rights norms into discourses on abortion in Northern Ireland, a region where abortion is highly restricted, with extensive contemporary public debate into potential liberalization of abortion law. This paper emanates from research examining political debates on abortion in Northern Ireland and contrasts findings with recent civil society developments, identifying competing narratives of human rights with regard to abortion at the macro- and micro-political level. The paper identifies the complexities of using human rights as a lobbying tool, and questions the utility of rights-based arguments in furthering abortion law reform. The paper concludes that a legalistic rights-based approach may have limited efficacy in creating a more nuanced debate and perspective on abortion in Northern Ireland but that it has particular resonance in arguing for limited reform in extreme cases.

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