Centre for Health Law and Society 2019 Public Lecture

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La Trobe University City Campus (Boardroom, Level 20)

360 Collins Street

Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Witnessing Legal Reproduction: Observing Repeal of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment

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The Centre for Health Law and Society at La Trobe Law School invites you to attend our 2019 Public Lecture presented by Dr Ruth Fletcher, Queen Mary, University of London.

Witnessing Legal Reproduction: Observing Repeal of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment

Feminists witness legal worlds as they observe, document, and share nothing less than the reproduction of life itself. The world of the abortion trail, where people and things move across borders to change life’s reproduction, has generated a rich variety of legal sources, figures and objects for witnessing. This paper thinks through how legal actors improvised with sources, figures and objects as they participated in the successful campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the Irish constitutional provision that equated the life of a pregnant woman with that of her foetus.

Taking Michelle Murphy’s concept of immodest witnessing as its point of theoretical departure, the paper asks how self-examination, collective collaboration, and horizontal knowledge-sharing, were used on the trail to repeal of the Eighth amendment. Novel forms of self-examination, such as those used by feminist performance activists Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A., involved improvising with naming so as to display the messy genealogies of a self in a ‘cat’s cradle’ of supportive others and disappointing states. Secondly, witnessing fleshed out connections between different kinds of reproductive labour as it used novel subject-figures (e.g. migrant domestic cleaners, tragic heroines, and objective feminist lawyers) to criticise the effects of state actions in diaspora space. Thirdly, witnessing placed legal objects, such as clothing and pills, so as to reclaim space and connect particular public locations and make them more, if unevenly, comfortable for sexual and reproductive bodies.

The paper argues that such witnessing is a creative form of legal reproduction in being messy, fleshy and funny in its innovative use of names, subject-figures and clothes, as distinct from the body-parts, protocols and speculums of Murphy’s immodest witness, in conjuring up a new law. This witnessing show us how committed and partial practices play a role in speaking to the disinterested, in stretching the legal imagination, and in sustaining the everyday grind of making a better world.

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Dr Ruth Fletcher is a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. Her research draws on feminist theory and critical socio-legal studies to investigate the relationship between law and reproduction. Ruth’s current projects examine developments in the ‘abortion trail’ as a site of legal reproduction in the struggle for justice, and in ‘FLaK’ as a living archive of the mixed methods of feminist legal studies. Ruth’s work has been widely published in journals such as Social and Legal Studies, Feminist Theory, Medical Law Review and the International Journal of Law in Context. She is outgoing Academic Editor of Feminist Legal Studies and a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Mental Health and Capacity Law. She has participated in a wide range of collaborative research networks and projects across Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Ireland and the UK. Ruth sits on the Board of the Irish Family Planning Association and on the Steering Group of Lawyers for Choice, and is, was, a longtime witness of the Eighth Amendment as a legal expert, feminist activist, and user of reproductive health care.

For more information or to advise of dietary or other requirements please contact chls@latrobe.edu.au

Date and Time

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La Trobe University City Campus (Boardroom, Level 20)

360 Collins Street

Melbourne, VIC 3000

Australia

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