Abortion activism, legal change, and taking feminist law work seriously


  • Máiréad Enright Birmingham Law School
  • Kathryn McNeilly Queen's University Belfast
  • Fiona de Londras Birmingham Law School


abortion, activism, law reform, legal change, feminist law work, feminist legal studies, Ireland, Northern Ireland


Abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have recently undergone radical reform. This occurred following a 2018 referendum in the Republic and the passing of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 in Northern Ireland. In both jurisdictions, these legal changes are the products not only of moments of constitutional and legislative action or of litigation, but of decades of feminist protest and strategising that both generated and exploited moments of legal opportunity. In this article, drawing on a 2018 workshop and qualitative interviews with feminist activists, we focus attention on what we call the ‘feminist law work’ involved in reform, highlighting the role of non-lawyer activists in achieving legal change in instrumental, creative, emotional, and laborious ways. We argue that ‘feminist law work’ should be taken seriously as a highly skilled and indispensable driving force in formal legal change processes.

Author Biographies

Máiréad Enright, Birmingham Law School

Reader in Feminist Legal Studies, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham

Kathryn McNeilly, Queen's University Belfast

Senior Lecturer, Queen's University Belfast School of Law

Fiona de Londras, Birmingham Law School

Professor of Global Legal Studies, Birmingham Law School, Univerity of Birmingham and Honorary Professor, Australian National University College of Law