Abortion in Ireland – Legislating for the X-Case

Will we legislate for abortion where a woman’s life is in danger or do we want to remain morally superior to everyone else?

The FFers and self-named Pro-Lifers are accusing Pat Rabbitte of trying to muzzle debate on abortion because he had the temerity to criticise Cardinal Seán Brady’s recent outburst on RTÉ.  He’s intimidating the Church, say the Pro-Lifers (to distinguish them from the rest of us who are, presumably, anti-life).  How is he intimidating the church?  Simple: he said it would be a bad thing to go back to the days when priests could lay down the law and the politicians would jump.

You think priests never told Irish politicians how to behave?  Think again.

Take Liam Cosgrave, an otherwise intelligent and witty man, who, in December 1973, voted against his own party even though he was Prime Minister of this little State, because he felt duty-bound to follow the instructions of priests and vote against legalising contraception.

It always helps to put these things in context using music, so let’s see.  What were people listening to that year?

How about Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, James Brown, Roxy Music, ABBA, Tom Waits, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and Al Green?  Paul Simon.  Smokey Robinson.  Queen, for christsake!  The New York Dolls. Steely Dan.  10cc.

In other words, this was not the Dark Ages, but it was a time, in Ireland, where a leading politician felt entitled to say that his Catholic beliefs took precedence over his duties as leader of the government.  Ask any young person today what year contraception became legal in Ireland and they’ll look at you with incomprehension.  You mean it was illegal? 

It’s hard to imagine now, but it’s not so long since it was against the law to buy a pack of condoms in this land.  In 1978, the ridiculous Charlie Haughey introduced a law making the sale of condoms legal on prescription, provided they were for the purpose of bona fide family planning, whatever that was.  Haughey in his two-faced, hypocritical way, presented this as An Irish solution to an Irish problem, without ever acknowledging that the Irish problem was simple: the whole country had its head up its arse.

It wasn’t until 1985 that you could buy a condom, but even then, you couldn’t legally get one anywhere except a pharmacy or a hospital.

Why?  Who knows?  As late as 1990, the Irish Family Planning Association was fined for selling condoms in the Virgin Megastore.  1990!  Twenty-two years ago.  As recently as that, our State was prosecuting people for selling condoms.  I kid you not.  A Garda thought it was worth his while to buy a packet of condoms as evidence and initiate a prosecution for the crime of … well, nothing at all.  Imagine that: our national police force prioritised this above everything else including the huge heroin epidemic that was sweeping Dublin at the same time, and the continuing political strife throughout the island.

Let me remind you when this happened: 1990, not 1890.

But let’s not stop with condoms.  When did divorce finally become legal in Ireland?

That’s right: 1994, after years of vicious battles against right-wing Catholic ideologues who fought all proposals tooth and nail.

Is it any wonder we were the laughing stock of Europe?

Now, who was behind all this lunacy?

Precisely the same people who were behind every other socially-regressive campaign in this country.   The same people who set up Family Solidarity, Youth Defence and all the rest of them.  A small bunch of  ideological bullies and thugs who were organised very effectively by a tiny core of fanatics and who gained a disproportionate degree of influence over the executive in this country.

Bad news, folks.  They’re back, I’m afraid.

Our government has no choice but to legislate following the X Case: they must pass a law making abortion legal where a woman’s life is in danger.  There’s no room for discussion on this.  No room for debate.  We’ve had five referendums and that’s an end of it.   Where a woman’s life is in danger, our constitution says that abortion is legal, and our  government must transpose that requirement into law, but no.  Being Ireland, we have to start again at the beginning as if we’d had no referendums at all, and no debate for the last thirty years.

Cardinal Seán Brady,  protector of child-rapists, is now lecturing the nation on the morality of saving women’s lives, as if he knew anything about such matters.  In his recent RTÉ interview, Cardinal Seán, who clearly had never heard of ectopic pregnancy, declared in all his princely pomp that pregnancy never threatens a woman’s life.   But at least, to his credit, his ignorance is probably because he stood by his vow never to experience a committed relationship.

What a great qualification that is for lecturing people about family life.

There’s no more room for slithering and equivocation on this issue.  The reality is that abortion already happens in Ireland.   Whenever an anencephalic foetus is prematurely induced, that’s an abortion. Whenever a fallopian tube with an ectopic pregnancy is excised, that’s an abortion.

Is it about feeling morally superior to the rest of the world or is it about facing up to reality?  That’s the question.  It’s just that we Irish are far happier hiding behind euphemisms and evasions.  We have no nuclear power in Ireland, even though we buy electricity from Britain, and we have no abortion either.  We love our equivocations and our denials, but this is it, folks.  There’s no way out.  Can a woman whose life is in danger get an abortion in Ireland or does she have to skulk off to Britain like a thief in the night so that we can continue to believe in our moral superiority?

It’s as simple as that, and what we do about it will decide whether we are finally fit to govern ourselves.



Religious zeal and tough medicine







21 thoughts on “Abortion in Ireland – Legislating for the X-Case

  1. Its kinda funny that all my friends over the years never once said they were expecting a foetus! also if abortion is a medical procedure why can’t our national broadcaster show this medical procedure being carried out, we have all seen many programmes which depict various medical procedures being carried out, why not this one, and please show it in an educational rather than a controversial manner, Once i am fully informed I will make a final decision on this issue

  2. By the way on the contraception topic, we were really sold a pup there or at least women were hehe (oh if widespread availability of condoms etc is available no more single mother no more teenage pregnancies haha and def all STDs will be eleminated HAHA again us men def won that one we didnt have to get married anymore to get our bits an bobs but lookin at the 17yr olds pushing buggies on the streets today wonder how liberating it all was for women.

  3. It might have escaped your notice, Gerard, but the people have already voted on this. You’ll be making no decision.

  4. Excellent article Bock, expresses the rage and frustration that I feel, having lived through the whole sorry period myself.

    As to Gerrard above, you have nothing to decide, the Irish people decided that abortion should be allowed in cases where the mothers life was in danger in 1983 and confirmed the right of pregnant women to travel and to provide information to pregnant women about abortion clinics abroad in 1992, finally in 2002 the Irish people again decided that the risk of suicide was definitely a legitimate grounds for an abortion thus confirming the outcome of the X-case.

    So the issue has been decided by the Irish people, it’s just that, as Bock states above, a bunch of bullying medievalists have cowed our spineless politicians with a fear of controversy. If this government also fails to legislate for abortion it’s time for Mná na hÉirreann to rise up.

  5. very valid point we probably wont be asked to vote again still love to see a documentary on our public broadcasting station showing this “Medical Procedure” being carried out.
    Oh by the way what services will be put in place to support women who have regretted their decision to have an abortion I assume that will be part of the package !!

  6. Oh and just to clarify The Irish People were asked once in a straight vote and they voted to enshrine the right to life of the unborn in the constitutation, that answer was not the correct one so they were asked again would they like some abortion or lots of abortion, by the way great news my niece gave birth to a foetus yesterday morning all well

  7. Let me clarify something please, Gerard. Are you against providing a woman with an abortion if her life is in danger?

  8. Ah at last so it is a medical procedure rather than a lifestyle choice Bock. lets start a campaign to have the Medical Procedure aired on TV after the watershed Lead us Bock please and we shall follow then we will all have informed opinions in the meantime the medical profession will continue doing what they have always done, Save the mother and if the child is lost as a consequence then so be it.

  9. Bock can you do me a little favour, as you obviously have access to the figures and I dont, Can you tell us how many mothers have died in ireland in the last 10 years because they were denied an abortion which was medically essential
    Thanks no hurry now whenever you have a chance

  10. I asked you a simple question, Gerard. Are you against providing an abortion to a woman whose life is in danger?

  11. Abortion was always available in Ireland if you had the money. Mary Anne “Mamie” Cadden who ran a private abortion or termed nursing home in Rathgar in the 1930’s.
    The book “Unmarried mothers and infanticide in Ireland, 1900-1950” by Cliona Rattigan details with the poor were left to deal with unwanted children.

  12. @Gerard, why is it that some people insist on seeing the world in terms of black and white? This is not about abortion as a lifestyle choice , it’s not about worrying that allowing abortion where either the mother’s life is in danger or the baby will be stillborn will lead to wide-spread elective abortions…it’s pretty clear what the scope of this is
    Where is there any evidence to suggest that this might lead to free for all abortion clincs? (personally I disagree with elective abortion of a healthy foetus, I’d much rather see people accept responsiblity for their mistakes, but then that’s my opinion)
    Also, you can’t just blame condom availability for the rise in teen pregnancies without also taking into acount the progressive sexualisation of teens by TV, radio, pop culture and the interwebs…..my 14 year old and his peers are having sex nowadays and this is pretty “normal” for them; although the old fart in me is annoyed when I see him coming home with red-ribbon project condoms (specifically because it seems that these days all they say is “sex is dangerous but it’s really awesome, here are some invincible condoms, now remember, don’t be having teh sex but , wink wink, when you do…..I’d much rather he came to me and had a chat about it…) the other side of me is glad he has them…..I’d argue that without the mass availability of condoms the problems would be significantly worse.

  13. @Gerard
    Surely that isn’t your sole objection to abortion -that it looks Bloody! Do you think that if everyone was shown the blood and guts they would run to the nearest church and abandon their evil secularist ways?
    A very Catholic outlook of course, this fascination with gore. You see it on those pro-life posters of aborted foetuses. A nasty passive-agressive taunt at women who have had an abortion, as if forcing them to go to England wasn’t bad enough.

    Well here it is Gerard, [Deleted: violation of commenting policy].

    (Sorry Bock)

  14. I’d rather debate facts with Gerard rather than throw abuse at him, please.

    He still has a question to answer.

  15. Why do things have to so extreme! Why must the mother’s life be at risk – abortion is a personal choice and should be available to every female should she so desire. If you want a DVD/tutorial on the surgery, f**king rent one. Who is the state, the church or indeed anyone else to tell a female she MUST have a child if she does not want to. Here we go now with all the idiotic comments that she shouldn’t have had sex in the first place. Well she should have, her sexual desires and her fertility are two very different things. Whilst men can have “healthy” sexual desires, females are expected to possess no sexual appetite. Newsflash females are as horny as males and in modern times should a female find herself with an unwanted pregnancy, she should have the right to terminate the same if she so wishes without the need for trains, planes and automobiles. The prehistoric, stone-age thinking that still exists in modern Ireland is baffling yet alarming. Why must the whole thing be so dissected and analysed whilst hiding behind referendum after referendum?

  16. The current context is about the legal obligation on the government to give effect to the X Case ruling.

    A broader discussion of abortion is for another day.

  17. Thanks for all the comments and responses (the extremely abusive one says more about the sender then I ever could)
    Anyway I dont think I will be using this forum again Thank you Bock and goodbye

  18. As far as terminating a pregnancy when the mothers life is at risk (ectopic pregnancy) bock is right, abortions are already performed in this country.
    I think most reasonable would argue that legislating for the X case is long overdue in so far as when there is a clear substantive risk to the mothers life through suicide a termination should be allowed, however the devil is in the detail, who determines whether their is a bona fide risk of suicide? will every woman who wants an abortion by claiming she will commit suicide be required to undergo psychiatric assessment? what if the evaluating psychiatrist rules that she is not a true suicide risk, will she then be required to go to court in order to get that decision overturned? It has often been cited by pro-life advocates that the supreme court ruling in the X case was made in the absence of expert psychiatric testimony, and thus a flawed ruling, despite what you might think of them and their views I feel their concern in that instance is legitimate

  19. Gerard, are you saying that an abortion is not a medical procedure? The ratio for womed dying in childbirth in Ireland up to December 31st 2011 was still 5.7 per 100,000 live births. Just clearing up the data for you. Some of these arose from conditions that could have been detected earlier and the mother’s life saved by an abortion.

  20. what about the fact Abortion can lead to a drop in crime rates 15 years later
    worked in New York
    could work here
    Dave Levitt Freakonomics

    By Gerard

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