The social life of abortion law: on personal and political pedagogy

by Nicky Priaulx

Medical Law Review 11 January 2017;25(1):73-98. doi:


The current contribution seeks to start a conversation around our pedagogical practice in respect of abortion law. Centralising the traditional portrayal of abortion law within the medical law curriculum, this essay highlights the privileging of a very particular storyline about abortion. Exploring the terrain in evaluating medical law methodologies, this essay highlights the illusion of ‘balance’, ‘objectivity’, and ‘neutrality’ that emerges from current pedagogy in light of how abortion law is framed and in particular what is excluded: women’s own voices. Focusing on a number of ‘exclusions’ and ‘silences’ and noting how closely these mirror dominant discourse in the public sphere, this essay highlights the irony of a curriculum that reflects, rather than challenges, these discursive gaps. Arguing that the setting of a curriculum is inevitably political, ambitions for delivering a programme around abortion that is ‘neutral’, ‘objective’, or ‘balanced’ are dismissed. Instead, highlighting the problems of what is currently excluded, how materials are ordered, and the tacit hierarchies that lend legitimacy and authority to a particular way of ‘knowing’ abortion, this essay argues for a new curriculum and a new storyline – one which is supported by prior learning in feminist legal scholarship and a medical law curriculum in which the social, historical, geographical, and above all, personal is ever-present and central.