Critical discourse analysis of the Joint Committee Meetings on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

Critical discourse analysis of the Joint Committee Meetings on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

Shiplo S (1), O’Donoghue K (1,2), Meaney S (1,3)

(1) Pregnancy Loss Research Group, University College Cork, Ireland; (2) The Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research (INFANT), University College Cork, Ireland; (3) National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre, University College Cork, Ireland

The 1983 Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution stated that the right to life of a pregnant mother and her unborn were equal, which meant pregnancy terminations were illegal in Ireland. Due to increasing opposition, a parliamentary committee was formed to deliberate arguments for and against repealing the Eighth Amendment. This study evaluates the issues raised and how information was presented during the committee meetings on the Eighth Amendment.

Published transcripts from the committee meetings on the Eighth Amendment were accessed online for analysis. The committee’s deliberations occurred from September 20 to December 14, 2017. This qualitative study applied a critical discourse analysis, which evaluates language in its social and cultural context. Critical discourse analysis allows for the deconstruction of language to gain an understanding of socially produced meanings, recognising the ability for language to perpetuate inequalities and power dynamics.

Throughout the committee meetings, research evidence was often misrepresented in order to spin findings in support of members’ arguments. Anecdotal evidence, including emotionally-laden narratives, was used to persuade members with divergent views to change their moral and political opinions about what is socially acceptable. When discussing the risk and practical issues of introducing termination of pregnancy, the matter of conscientious objection and maternity hospitals with religious governance were debated, illustrating the influence of cultural and religious ideologies over the health of the population.

The discourse throughout the meetings likely influenced the committee members’ perception of key issues, consequently impacting the pregnancy termination legislation created in 2019. This study reveals the potential for underlying bias in political structures and prevailing religious beliefs to sway healthcare legislation, ultimately shaping women’s health in Ireland.

Ethics Statement
Only data which were publically available were collected and no attempts were made to contact any individual therefore no ethical approval was sought for this study. Despite these data being publically available there is still an onus to ensure that ethical standards are met. Therefore any identifiable information have been removed.

Key words: 1) pregnancy termination, 2) critical discourse analysis, 3) legislation

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