Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Lessons from Ireland

Human rights discourse is an important strategy to use when advocating for sexual and reproductive rights.

Research Findings

In this paper I look to Ireland with a feminist curiosity and ask: what lessons can women’s health movement(s) in varying geographic and social contexts learn from the Irish case in the use of human rights discourse to promote positive change in sexual and reproductive health matters?
I discuss two major findings that emerged from my examination of IFPA documents. They are: a) the ways in which the IFPA framed the current state of sexual and reproductive health for women in Ireland in relation to international human rights conventions and treatises to which Ireland is a signatory as a response to the ambiguous and discriminatory nature of Irish law and practice regarding sexual and reproductive health; and b) the ways in which the IFPA called on the Irish state to take responsibility for the provision of health care services and protection of women’s bodily integrity in light of the intense burden which economically disadvantaged women in Ireland suffered as a part of the implementation of post-2008 recession austerity measures.
In my reading of IFPA documents, the organization challenged the State to be accountable for women’s rights in Ireland, rather than allowing a situation to continue where those who can afford and have access to travel can acquire services. When speaking of human rights in these modes, the Irish Family Planning Association exemplifies a strategy of using human rights discourse and frameworks in a way that connects a variety of sexual and reproductive health topics, spanning beyond a single issue or a singular group of people, to such crucial notions as reproductive freedom and autonomy. Framing sexual and reproductive health in this way can be an effective tool in highlighting the fundamental need for women to have the power and resources necessary to make and carry out informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives (Correa & Petchesky, 1994) in a variety of global contexts.

Key Recommendations

1. Use as example or evidence to substantiate an advocacy strategy.
2. Anyone working within the EU could use the cases presented in the research as precedent with the European Court of Human Rights.
3. Feminist advocates could use the research to organize against the implementation of austerity measures.

Implementation Examples

– This work could be applied to NGOs working in similar political/cultural contexts.
– This work could be used as a roadmap for creating an advocacy strategy.
– This work could be the starting point for a collection of cases in which human rights are used to address sexual and reproductive health discrepancies specifically.


Using the IFPA as a case study, my work employs a content analysis of over 400 pages of documents including IFPA generated annual reports, submissions, and publications between 2008-2013 (inclusive) to investigate how, in this particular “moment,” advocacy based on notions of human rights can advance women’s sexual and reproductive health.

Core Concepts

Sexual and Reproductive Rights- having the power and resources necessary to make and carry out informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives (Correa & Petchesky, 1994) in a variety of global contexts. Informed by human rights discourses.


Limited sample, case study approach