Global Roadmaps to Reproductive Rights: Explaining Divergent Trends in Abortion Law. The Case of Ireland

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


In June 2022, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision rocked United States politics. Media asked what would this decision mean for abortion seekers and what did this say about the country? When abortion was legalized in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was a part of a global trend. The Soviet Union and much of the “Eastern Bloc” had legalized the medical procedure in the 1950s, and many countries in Northern and Western Europe followed suit in the 1960s and 1970s. Western European countries were responding to concerns about the “population bomb” and to rising feminist movements that connected reproductive autonomy to full citizenship. Many Americans imagined that that while the US was not the first to liberalize abortion, it was a leader in the world towards more rights and gender equality. In 2022, the US is a part of a very different trend. It is among a small group of countries that are putting new limits on abortion, restricting access instead of expanding it. This group includes the US, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland.

The Dobbs decision has overshadowed the much larger global trend in abortion law. Fifty-nine countries have liberalized their abortion law or legalized the procedure since 1994. These changes have only accelerated in the last ten years. Most recently, it is countries in the Global South that have taken the lead. For example, women’s rights activists across Latin America have demanded and campaigned for more reproductive rights and they have had some major successes. In 2020, Argentina’s legislature legalized abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, and in 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion. Ireland, another country with a deeply-rooted Catholic culture, repealed its abortion restrictions by referendum in 2018.

This roundtable brings together scholars who study abortion in countries that have restricted abortion (U.S., Poland, and El Salvador) and in countries that have legalized or decriminalized it (Mexico, Argentina, and Ireland). Speaking about their country of expertise, each scholar will explain the history that lead to these transformations. Then, together, the panel will consider common trends that may explain the divergent trends in reproductive law. We will consider, among other things, the role of women’s mobilizations, health and feminist arguments, religion, and democratic and autocratic movements. This panel will be of interest to a host of different scholars, including those attentive to histories of women, gender, and sexuality; histories of conservative, liberal, and radical movements; and histories of comparative politics.
Period06 Jan 2024
Held atAmerican Historical Association, United States
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • abortion
  • ireland
  • liberalisation
  • social change
  • historical sociology