This special edition of CrisisJam marks the twentieth anniversary of the X Case. The case transformed political debate on abortion in Ireland and led to a growing liberalism around the issue, so that today, the majority of people are in favour of some form of abortion legislation. Yet, the anniversary also represents twenty years of political cowardice on the issue and the systematic denial of the reality of abortion in this country, North and South.
Abortion became illegal in Ireland under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. One hundred and fifty years later, it is still illegal. Today, Ireland still has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, with abortion being illegal in all circumstances except where there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman. Yet, abortion is as much a fact of life as it is in Britain, the United States or any European country where it is legal.
The aim of the Bill introduced in the Dáil this week by Socialist Party TD Clare Daly is to legislate for the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in Attorney General v X, which ruled that abortion is legal in Ireland when the life of the woman is at risk, including the risk of suicide.
I was working in a maternity hospital when the X case happened. It was an extraordinary time. We were delivering babies, sterilising women, removing wombs, treating reproductive cancers, managing miscarriages and looking after women: only women. Most of the staff, midwives and doctors were women. All of the professors, consultants and managers were men. The elephant in the room was the X case, and nobody was actually talking about that.
The twentieth anniversary of X is a very important marker in the history of pro-choice activity in Ireland but even immediate delivery of legislation on X would have little impact on solving the problems generated by the absence of abortion services in Ireland.
Dr Mary Favier, of Doctors for Choice, laid out this position very coherently in the aftermath of the 2002 referendum when the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition government attempted to overturn the X judgment:
I first became involved in pro choice campaigning in early 2007 when I became involved in building a direct action pro-choice campaign group “Choice Ireland”. Although the Dublin Abortion Information Campaign and the Women’s Information Network had secured the rights of women to access abortion information there was no regulation of who could provide crisis pregnancy counselling. As a result, organisations purporting to offer abortion information were manipulating and lying to women to prevent them terminating pregnancies.
It came as a great surprise to women activists on reproductive rights, and indeed to the general population, when a hitherto unknown ‘pro-life’ group appeared in 1981 arguing for a referendum of the population on the subject of abortion. They sought to insert a foetal right to life clause in the Irish written Constitution. It was a surprise because no one was campaigning for abortion at the time. Indeed the main concern was the absence of a legal right to contraception for women and men and teenage girls and boys.
“A low rate of corporation tax on export-orientated activity has been a cornerstone of our industrial policy since the 1950s and the 12½% rate is now part of our international ‘brand’. The contribution from the corporate sector will be made through the maintenance and creation of high value employment.”
So said the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, issued on 24 November 2010 by the Fianna Fáil/Green Party and which received glowing approval from the EU, IMF and the ECB.
It's a disorienting and frequently disconcerting sensation to live between two countries on the European periphery and witness the striking similarities but also the glaring differences.