Narratives of Innocent Suffering in Transnational Abortion Litigation


The fourth part of Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies focuses on “Narratives and Social Meaning.”  In this part, chapters by Lisa Kelly, Alejandro Madrazo and Rebecca Cook identify the recurring narratives that arise from legal debates on abortion.  They explore the significance of narratives that are produced by laws, litigation, and language about abortion, and how these narratives convey social meaning.  The authors encourage readers to consider the consequences of stories told through the legal contests about abortion and the social meanings they convey about women, their sexuality, and their pregnancies and what these consequences may portend for legal strategy. Understanding the broader narratives within which legal argument resides opens opportunities to rethink strategies of old, and to reimagine new approaches of engagement.  The first of these chapters is:

Lisa Kelly, “Reckoning with Narratives of Innocent Suffering in Transnational Abortion Litigation” chapter 14 in Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies, ed. Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman, and Bernard M. Dickens (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) pp. 303-326, notes, pp. 440-446.  Ahora disponible en español.

In this chapter, Lisa Kelly analyzes the power and peril of narratives of innocent suffering in contemporary transnational abortion rights litigation from Latin America.  She identifies in these cases a recurring narrative that invokes sexual innocence, violation, and parental beneficence:  an adolescent girl, figured often as a child, is raped, becomes pregnant, and with the support of her parents seeks to terminate the pregnancy.  When she is denied access to a lawful abortion in a public hospital, the state emerges as the shameful antagonist.  Kelly warns, that with these legal and discursive openings, reproductive rights advocates face a “knife-edge dilemma.”   By narrating sympathetic cases of violated young girls, advocates risk reinforcing ideas of the “reasonable” or “deserved” abortion.  Likewise, while parents and family can provide an important cultural and legal counterweight to the state when it restricts abortion access, advocates run the risk of vesting greater legal authority in all parents, including those who may disagree with their daughters’ decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy.  In this chapter, Lisa aims to foreground young people’s decision-making and highlight the ways in which these cases may advance or undermine their autonomy in larger reproductive justice struggles.

Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies was first published in August 2014 by the University of Pennsylvania Press’s Studies in Human Rights Series.   Table of Contents and other information online.  A Spanish edition was published in August, 2016.  Ahora disponible en español.

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