Christine Ryan

June 8, 2016

conference badgeAs part of my SJD research on abortion rights in international human rights law, I am completing a case study on abortion politics in Ireland. In particular, I am studying the role of human rights law and rights discourse in the arguments used in support of and against abortion rights. A key source for this research is interviewing NGOs, grassroots organisations and politicians who work on both sides of the issue. I will be commencing my interviews here in Ireland next week.

In my first blog post however, I want to reflect on the opportunity I had during my first week here to attend a global conference on ‘abortion and reproductive justice’ that was held in Belfast. The two-day event examined access to abortion, activism and abortion politics across the world. Speakers addressed topics such as abortion stigma, barriers to legal reform, medicalisation, human rights, migration, provider refusal, activism, abortion narratives, sex-selective abortion, and religion. As a law student, I really appreciated the strong interdisciplinary dimension of the conference with papers drawn from social policy, criminology, sociology, medicine, psychology, history and art.

Focal Point Monday 6 June 2016 from Northern Visions NvTv on Vimeo.

Panel on activist strategies

Panel on activist strategies

I engaged with panels on activist strategies, applying citizenship and human rights arguments to abortion access and shifts in abortion governance and human rights.  There was much debate throughout the conference on whether the framework of “reproductive justice” rather than the language and framework of “human rights,” is most useful to reproductive rights campaigns. The reproductive framework emphasises the need for law to be attentive to the ways that social class, gender, migration, and racism intersect with reproduction and its proponents sometimes consider “reproductive rights” to be too focused on privacy, autonomy, and abortion. I find this critique very useful and am receptive to the argument that we need new ways of thinking about reproductive justice beyond individual choice.

My goal is to develop an equality-based framework for international human rights law and part of my goal this summer is to uncover the role of the right to non-discrimination in abortion rights advocacy. Furthermore, my project has at it roots, the claim that international human rights law is critical to advancing access to abortion as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill. In the first instance, women and advocates are regularly forced to rely on international law to circumvent political inertia and discriminatory constitutional orders in their nation states. And these movements are seeing results. Through human rights reporting and high profile litigation, advocates are using human rights bodies to develop progressive norms that can be enforced (in the case of regional courts); cited domestically; and can transform public discourse on abortion. While the United States Supreme Court may have been the vanguard of abortion law reform in the latter half of the 20th century, international human rights law increasingly presents an innovative vehicle for abortion rights reform in the 21st century.

Alliance for choice in Northern IrelandIt is therefore hugely important that the doctrinal and methodological shortcomings of international human rights law on abortion are remedied and I am exploring whether an equality framework can achieve this. Wish me luck!