The Abortion Act (1967): A biography

Sally Sheldon, Gayle Davis, Jane O'Neill, Clare Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, we set out what it means to offer a ‘biography’ of a law, illustrating the discussion through the example of the Abortion Act (1967), an important statute that has regulated a highly controversial field of practice for five decades. Biography is taken as a useful shorthand for an approach which requires simultaneous attention to continuity and change in the historical study of a law's life. It takes seriously the insight that written norms are rooted in the past, enshrining a certain set of historically contingent values and practices, yet that – as linguistic structures that can impact on the world only through acts of interpretation – they are simultaneously constantly evolving. It acknowledges the complex, ongoing co-constitution of law and the contexts within which it operates, recognising that understanding how law works requires historical, empirical study. Finally, it suggests that consideration of a law can offer a unique window through which to explore these broader contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-35
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number1
Early online date5 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • abortion law
  • biography
  • health care law
  • legal history
  • Abortion Act 1967


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