Ireland's Moral Revolution: Honor, Shame and the Liberalisation of Abortion Law

Smyth, L. (Invited speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited or keynote talk at national or international conference


How can we understand Ireland’s liberalisation of abortion law through a constitutional referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment in 2018? Has Ireland become individualised in the relatively prosperous late modern era, as the significance of family and community fade (Giddens 1991)? Alternatively, might we understand this moral revolution (Appiah 2010), as the consequence of a broader and more complex normative change, which liberalised abortion access through a newly recognized combination of solidarity and social freedom (Honneth 2014)?

This talk aims to address these questions by considering how freedom was understood in the liberalisation of attitudes to abortion. The emotional tone of public reactions to two major events which caused spikes in liberalisation of attitudes will be considered, namely the 1992 X Case and the death of Savita Halappanavar, twenty years later in 2012 (Reidy 2019). Shame is employed as a tool for identifying the freedom norms at work. The significance of shame in liberalising attitudes to abortion indicates that the Repeal referendum result dramatized a newly prominent norm of social freedom, rather than an emerging libertarian consensus.
Period27 Jul 2020
Event titleIASR 2020 : Virtual Meeting
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • abortion
  • repeal
  • liberalisation
  • libertarianism
  • social freedom