Religion in the discourse of abortion

Helen Ringrow, Simon Statham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The language around abortion is often viewed through a religious lens. Although there is no one unified definitive ‘religious position’ on abortion, religious institutions tend to have certain stances on abortion related to morality and ethics. In jurisdictions where religion and the interests of religious institutions are strongly intertwined with those of political parties and national governments, religious positions on abortion drive and define the law, and broad social and cultural views, on abortion and reproductive healthcare, which are routinely manifested in the language surrounding abortion in a range of national contexts. One such context is Ireland, where the interests of Church and State have been intimately and problematically interconnected since the foundation of the Irish State. In this chapter, we review the existing linguistic and discourse-based research on the religious language of abortion, before presenting our case study focusing on the issue of abortion in Ireland, where a constitutional prohibition on abortion was enacted in 1983 and, after decades of campaigning by pro-choice activists, repealed by a referendum in 2018. We analyse campaign discourse from two key time periods, offering a Critical Discourse Analysis of religious language in the 1980s campaign to adopt the Eighth Amendment, the clause which gave the foetus constitutional status equal to that of women who were pregnant, and the less forceful focus on religion in the language of the campaign to retain the amendment in 2018. We will compare this language to that of the successful campaign for repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Our case study focuses on a particular geographical and cultural context, but can be situated within a broader global struggle for bodily autonomy, which has been brought into sharper focus since the repeal of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in the United States. Our study will be further contextualised by examining the comparative role of religious language in these international arenas.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Language and Religion
EditorsStephen Pihlaja, Helen Ringrow
ISBN (Electronic)9781003301271
ISBN (Print)9781032293530
Publication statusAccepted for publication - May 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge Handbooks in Linguistics

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