Summer Seminars: Narrating Innocent Suffering in Abortion Law


Chancellor Day Hall Stephen Scott Seminar Room (OCDH 16), 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

This summer, the Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law is presenting a series of Summer Seminars in which the whole McGill Law community is invited to take part. The main purpose of this seminar series is to offer a forum to younger scholars to present their ideas and to engage with those of others in an informal setting.

Cookies and cold drinks will be served.

Speaker: Lisa Kelly, Faculty of Law, Harvard University

Title: Narrating Innocent Suffering in Abortion Law

Abstract: Over the past decade, reproductive rights advocates have pursued a series of lawful abortion access cases from Latin America before the United Nations and Inter-American human rights systems.  These cases have met with resounding legal success.  Advocates celebrate these decisions as important victories for the advancement of abortion rights in international human rights law.  In this presentation, I offer a more ambivalent reading of these cases, however, specifically of how they narrate abortion and sexuality.  All but one of these claims has involved rape, and all but one has concerned minors.  I identify in these cases a recurring narrative of innocent suffering: an adolescent girl, figured often as a child, is raped, becomes pregnant, and with the support of her parents seeks to terminate the pregnancy.  This narrative proves powerful but also perilous for abortion rights advocates.  Cases involving adolescent rape and parental beneficence resonate powerfully with publics and with legal decision-makers.  And yet by narrating sympathetic cases likely to secure greater support for abortion access, advocates risk reinforcing narrow conceptions of the reasonable or deserved abortion. Thus, narratives of innocent suffering can sustain lines of argument and (re)produce legal rules that undercut the very emancipatory goals of the reproductive rights movement.

Contact Information

Jean-Frédéric Hübsch
Coordinator, Crépeau Centre
jean-frederic.hubsch [at]