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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
May 2023
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Book description

The Irish battle for legal contraception was a contest over Irish exceptionalism: the belief that Ireland could resist global trends despite the impact of second-wave feminism, falling fertility, and a growing number of women travelling for abortion. It became so lengthy and so divisive because it challenged key tenets of Irish identity: Catholicism, large families, traditional gender roles, and sexual puritanism. The Catholic Church argued that legalising contraception would destroy this way of life, and many citizens agreed. The Battle to Control Female Fertility in Modern Ireland provides new insights on Irish masculinity and fertility control. It highlights women's activism in both liberal and conservative camps, and the consensus between the Catholic and Protestant churches views on contraception for single people. It also shows how contraception and the Pro-Life Amendment campaign affected policy towards Northern Ireland, and it examines the role of health professionals, showing how hospital governance prevented female sterilisation. It is a story of gender, religion, social change, and failing efforts to reaffirm Irish moral exceptionalism.


‘A magisterial survey, rich in archival material and full of surprises while deftly charting the various players and high stakes in the battle to control female fertility. Essential reading for those who want to understand why the ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ prevailed for as long as it did.’

Alana Harris - King’s College London

‘Mary Daly's book is substantially more than an extended case history, examining as it does developments which reflected underlying currents and factors of social and political change in what had been, up to the mid-twentieth century, a society and a polity hall-marked by the regressive forces of poverty, emigration and overarching institutional power.’

John Hogan - Dublin City University

‘The Battle to Control Female Fertility in Modern Ireland offers a brilliantly detailed examination of the history of family planning in independent Ireland. Professor Daly rightly casts Ireland's convoluted and often controversial birth control reform process as a long contest between church, state, the medical profession, moral conservatism and individualism.’

Diane Urquhart - Queen’s University Belfast

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