Contested Embodiment: The Use of Prayer in Public Displays of Anti-abortion Activism

Sarah-Jane Page, Pam Lowe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Women’s reproductive health is an increasing area of contestation in the UK. Whilst access to safe abortion services is seen by the United Nations as a woman’s fundamental right, this is tempered by increased activism by those opposed to abortion. This activism is often, though not exclusively, religiously framed, with participants’ intention to dissuade women from seeking abortion services. This chapter is based on data collected through an ethnography of anti-abortion activists present at various abortion clinics throughout the UK, and those participating in March for Life, an annual one-day event. This chapter focuses on those opposed to abortion and the embodied prayer practices deployed as part of this activism. The framing of anti-abortion activism in religious terms can give the activity protected status, both legally and culturally: religion or belief is a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010. Meanwhile, defining a practice through religious means can delineate it as a sacred practice, enabling activists to claim this behaviour as non-problematic, but sacredly endorsed by God, particularly when prayer is deployed as a form of effecting change. Therefore, embodied practices – how activists deploy their bodies in their stand against abortion – are at the heart of how such contested behaviour is framed and understood, both in terms of how activists themselves interpret their behaviour, and how their behaviour is interpreted by others (for example, women seeking abortion services, passers-by and clinic staff).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmbodying Religion, Gender and Sexuality
EditorsSarah-Jane Page, Katy Pilcher
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781003130291
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameGendering the Study of Religion in Social Sciences


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