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Time to legislate for life-saving abortion February 6, 2012

Posted by guestposter in Irish Politics, Social Policy.

A timely guest post from Therese Caherty, Feminist Open Forum, on behalf of the Action on X

Today marks the date in 1992 when the parents of a pregnant 14-year-old took their daughter to England for an abortion. She had been raped by a friend of the family. That same day in the High Court, Mr Justice Declan Costello issued a temporary injunction to prevent the abortion. Only hours after they had left, the family returned to Ireland. This became known as the X Case.

Now finally, in 2012, a group of TDs including Joan Collins, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace are preparing to force the Coalition Government to introduce legislation on life-saving abortions. This move is to be welcomed and supported.

In January 2011, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was unequivocal: Ireland needs legislation to allow abortion in circumstances where the life or health of the mother is at risk.

His statement followed December 2010’s ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on Ireland’s abortion laws which, the Tánaiste and Minster for Foreign Affairs added, was “very clear that Ireland was out of kilter [on] human rights”.

He went further, saying Fine Gael’s proposal that the ruling and matters to do with it should be looked at by an All-Party Committee of the Oireachtas was unnecessary. According to his party’s legal advice, neither another Committee nor a constitutional amendment was necessary.

And yet, 13 months later, Health Minister James Reilly has just appointed yet another expert committee, this time headed by Mr Justice Sean Ryan. Its 14 members include senior civil servants, GPs, consultant obstetricians and legal experts, who are considering how the Coalition Government can implement the Supreme Court ruling on the X Case.

This ruling is now 20 years old. On January 30th, 1992 a rape was reported to the Garda. On February 6th, the parents of the pregnant 14-year-old made swift arrangements for an abortion in England because their daughter said she would rather end her own life than continue the pregnancy to term. The then Attorney General Harry Whelehan swung into action, winning a temporary High Court injunction that forced the family to return to Ireland.

The Irish Times carried the story some days later. All hell broke loose when Mr Justice Declan Costello went on to grant a permanent injunction. Protesters took to the streets in their thousands to express their shock and anger at the treatment of X. The actions of the Attorney General and a High Court judge provoked a sea-change in Irish opinion on abortion.

The girl’s parents lodged an appeal, applying for an early hearing. On March 6th, the Supreme Court acknowledged her right to life and ruled that a woman has a right to abortion in Ireland if her life is at risk, including at risk by suicide.

Back then, the late Supreme Court judge, Mr Niall McCarthy, emphasised the need for legislation saying: “The failure of the legislature to enact the appropriate legislation is no longer just unfortunate; it is inexcusable.”

Two decades later, after numerous expert committees, two referendums in which the people vindicated a woman’s right to life-saving abortion, several court rulings doing the same, and an acknowledgment from the current Government’s Deputy Leader that such legislation is necessary – all Labour and Fine Gael are giving us is yet another expert committee.

It is vital that the move by this group of TDs is supported, both inside and outside the Dáil.  The courts have ruled, the people have spoken – it’s time for the Government to act.

Therese Caherty, Feminist Open Forum, on behalf of the Action on X, an alliance of groups and individuals who call on the Irish Government to act immediately to implement appropriate legislation on the right to abortion in Ireland, 20 years after the X case and one year after the C case judgment.


1. X Case: 20 Years On | Broadsheet.ie - February 6, 2012

[…] Time To Legislate For Life-Saving Abortion (Therese Caherty, Cedar Lounge) […]


2. Ciarán - February 6, 2012

What are Collins, Daly and Wallace working on, a private member’s bill or something along those lines?


WorldbyStorm - February 7, 2012

This I do not know. Perhaps someone could outline that for us. It will be very interesting to see if there’s a bit of a push now on this issue.

I’m surprise, I guess, people haven’t discussed this more on here.


3. popeepopt - February 8, 2012

‘Two decades later’… Ireland.

This will be passed over Kenny’s dead body, I suspect. But the push is still worthwhile.


4. Garibaldy - February 10, 2012
5. Mark P - February 22, 2012


Clare Daly of the Socialist Party and ULA introduced the bill today. She also put in an extremely strong performance on the Vincent Browne programme last night, taking the view that the bill she is moving is only a starting point in the struggle for safe, free, legal abortion as a choice.

Note the weasel words from the liberals over at Labour Women in the Irish Times article by the way, pretending to back the bill even while they really support Labour’s plan to kick the issue back into the long grass. Ann Ferris was at the same old shite at the very well attended Action on X public meeting the other day, talking up her support for abortion rights even as she prepares to vote to extend the 20 year wait.


6. Mark P - February 22, 2012
dilettante - February 22, 2012

Very optimistic when it says “Will the other political parties allow for a free vote on the proposal, in which case it has a high chance of passing.”

A free vote would be good, and it would tell us a lot about how far the debate has moved and how much influence the anti-choice lobby retain.

At the end of the day I would expect the government parties to kick for touch for fear of giving FF a stick to beat them with (particularly TDs in fear of losing their seats in rural constituencies).

Well done the ULAs, Wallace et al.


Mark P - February 22, 2012

I’d be astonished if Fine Gael and Fianna Fail did anything other than vote against.

It’s also clear that Labour want to continue their proud tradition of talking out of both sides of their mouth while doing absolutely nothing on the issue – they’ve been in government three times since X was injuncted and have done or attempted to do precisely zero. Labour, while a firmly neoliberal party when it comes to economic matters, does have lots of useless liberals however, and I’ll admit that I expected at least a few of them to have the courage of their alleged convictions on this subject. I wonder if any of them are actually stupid enough to believe that Fine Gael will introduce a bill to legalise limited abortion rights during the term of this government, or if they know that the one time they vote on the subject they’ll be voting against.

It will be interesting to see how SF vote too. Like Labour they are against a woman’s right to choose. Like Labour they are allegedly in favour of legislating for X. Like Labour their actual record is of doing or attempting to do nothing. Like Labour they have a backwoodsman wing of their own membership. Like Labour, they’ll be afraid of losing votes in rural areas. But unlike Labour they are in opposition, so they may feel that they can vote for it. Although it would be an interesting meeting of their parliamentary party where Pearse Doherty, who signed the Pro Life Movement pledge during the Donegal by-election gets those marching orders.


dilettante - February 23, 2012

True enough about FF. And they will use the issue ruthlessly to shore up a certain element of their core support. And to chip away at a certain element of FG support?
The only thing is that this might finish them in Dublin altogether (but maybe they feel they have nothing to lose?)

There are a few (admittedly very few) FG ‘liberals’ who would probably want to support it. But they’re being given an easy way out by the Ann Ferris/Labour Party position..

Between FF and the vast majority of FG (along with various independents and Labour stragglers) there’s not a hope in hell that the thing will pass (which was my main point).

I think it’s correct to put the pressure on the Labour Party to push for a free vote by government parties (the other important point I made).

I’m intrigued by your attempt to use the issue as a point-scoring exercise. Surely it would make more sense to put a bit of effort into maximising support for the bill?


Mark P - February 23, 2012

I’m not a public representative of the Socialist Party, or the ULA, or this bill! I’m also not under the illusion that Sinn Fein or Labour will shape their approach to the issue according to how diplomatic some random poster is in the comments section of a blog.

Labour and Sinn Fein have appalling, pathetic, cowardly records on the issue of abortion. I very much doubt if anyone here really disagrees with that statement, although no doubt a couple of our more delicate flowers don’t like it being expressed so bluntly. It’s in that context that I think it’s interesting to work out what they will do.


7. Mark P - February 22, 2012


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