Skip to main content


HIS2303 : Contesting Reproductive Rights in the UK and Ireland

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Vicky Long
  • Lecturer: Dr Sarah Campbell
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The regulation of reproductive rights has evoked strong reactions over the course of the twentieth-century, and continues to polarise opinions today. Women’s rights to access abortion vary significantly, both globally and within Europe, and while in many respects women’s access to legal abortion has expanded over the last 100 years, this picture is not universal, and it is far from clear that this direction of travel will be maintained.

The module situates debates about access to, and regulation of, abortion within a broader framework of reproductive rights, regulations, and bioethics. It focuses on the UK and Ireland, where abortion provisions diverge significantly, despite geographical proximity, situating this picture within a broader international picture to tease out generalizable and distinctive features. Structurally, it entwines a loosely chronological with a thematic approach, intersecting macro- and micro-level analysis and case studies. While pro-natalist policies predominated in the early years of the twentieth century, national policies and practices diverged over the course of the century, shaped in non-linear ways by medical politics, feminism, sexual politics, eugenics, and discourses about disability, politics, economics and religion. This module encourages students to evaluate the role played by these factors in shaping policy, practice, experience and activism, and reconfiguring debates about rights, choice and autonomy in different eras and locations. Feminist activism, for example, has been a driving force behind campaigns to legalise and protect access to abortion, but has also played a role in campaigns for better provisions for mothers. Efforts to restrict the right to reproduce often targeted disabled people, but some disabled people and their advocates in turn have sought to restrict people’s rights to access abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality.

Outline Of Syllabus

Indicative content:

Block 1: Pregnancy, Birth and Infant Care
•       War is good for babies? Pro-natalism and empire states
•       Feminist challenges to the medicalization of pregnancy and birth
•       Surrogacy and IVF
•       Ireland’s mother and baby homes

Block 2: Abortion
•       Accessing contraception
•       The 1967 Abortion Act: politics and feminist activism
•       The prolife movement and the rise of fetal rights
•       Abortion in Ireland

Block 3: Disability and Eugenics
•       Eugenics and sterilisation
•       Newgenics? Prenatal screening and disability rights

Training on poster design skills will be integrated into the teaching programme

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:001 x 1 hour lecture per week
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion671:0067:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading671:0067:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:001 hour per week, bar weeks where workshops are delivered
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00Introduction to primary sources for this module; guidance on poster design and the essay.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study331:0033:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time91:009:00Online drop in surgeries; in all teaching weeks, bar weeks when workshops are delivered.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

SEMINARS encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral presentation, interpersonal communication, problem-solving skills, research skills and adaptability; these can be delivered synchronously online, should it be necessary to reduce campus sessions.

LECTURES enable students to gain a wider sense of historical argument and debate and how such debates operate, which also allows them to develop comparisons between different historiographical debates. These can be recorded and made available asynchronously online, should it be necessary to reduce campus sessions.

WORKSHOP: The first workshop will introduce students to the range of primary sources available on this topic, many of which are available online, and will highlight issues we need to consider when analyzing these materials. The second workshop will provide students with guidance on poster design (e.g. aesthetic considerations, conveying ideas effectively succinctly to wider audiences, and will offer some pointers on planning and completing the essay assignment. These can be delivered synchronously online, should it be necessary to reduce campus sessions.

SURGERY TIME: Staff will offer slots for students to discuss seminar preparation, engaging with the primary source materials, and preparing for the assignments. These will take place in most teaching weeks (except the weeks when the workshops are running), and can either be scheduled for campus offices, or online, should it be necessary to reduce campus sessions.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2A803000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining the student’s progress.
Assessed Work:

You will be given a set of primary source documents relating to each of the blocks in the module and a list of essays. The two assessments are linked so you should choose primary sources that are related to your essay question. You will design a poster around a key theme in the sources. Feedback from your tutor on the assessment will then feed forward to your second assessment, the extended essay, allowing greater precision and analysis.

Both assignments will be submitted and marked online.

Reading Lists