Two Bodies or One? Conceptualisations of Women in English Pro-Life Discourse, 1967-92

Two Bodies or One? Conceptualisations of Women in English Pro-Life Discourse, 1967-92
17 Nov 2017, 17:15 to 17 Nov 2017, 19:15
IHR Pollard Seminar Room, N301, Third Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Livi De, Royal Holloway

This paper focuses on conceptualisations of embodiment within the English Pro-Life movement 1967-1992 – a period which saw the greatest concentration of Pro-Life activity during the 20th Century, marked by divisive debate. Drawing on original oral history interviews and archival research, this paper reveals the ways in which understandings of embodiment – both of the pregnant woman and the foetus – were variously imagined, articulated and contested among Pro-Life advocates, establishing a ‘spectrum’ of representation. In the literature of more extreme Pro-Life groups, feminist Pro-Choice women were painted as monsters who abandoned traditional femininity. Among less radical groups, women were portrayed as victims of patriarchy or their own hormonal bodies; these groups constructed their rhetoric and purpose around helping these women by supplying alternatives to abortion. Linking these approaches was a discourse articulating the presence of two bodies not one, which meant abortion was the application of harm, to the mother’s psychological or physical well-being and the foetus itself, considered a separate person worthy of legal protection. Overall, in exploring the issues of abortion, this paper contributes to understandings of a neglected theme of 20th century British history, and engages with a range of historiographical debates central to understandings of the body.


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