The A, B, C, D And X Of Abortion In Ireland

Ireland has the most peculiar relationship with abortion in the world. You see, in Ireland we pretend it doesn’t exist. Abortion is something to be ignored at all costs and unlike in most other countries, it is almost completely absent from the political discourse. Abortion is more or less (more on that) completely illegal and in fact the constitution contains an amendment (passed in 1983) that guarantees the “right to life of the unborn” which has an “equal right to life” as the mother. This doesn’t mean abortions don’t take place, they do, but in secret or in England. However, whether we like it or not abortion has exploded onto the political stage and we are going to finally have to deal with the problem that many wish would just disappear.

To understand the current political drama, I first must explain the so-called “X case”. This was a judgement by the Irish Supreme Court which has the potential to change Ireland’s stance on abortion. You see, a 14 year old girl (referred to as X to protect her identity) was raped by her neighbour. For obvious reasons she did not wish to raise the child (who could blame her) and she went to England with her mother to have an abortion. However, her family contacted the Gardai to see if DNA evidence would be needed from the foetus to prosecute the rapist. Upon hearing about the case, the Attorney General got an injunction to prevent the abortion from occurring. She appealed this decision which went all the way to the Supreme Court. (As it turned out, the girl miscarried shortly after the judgement before she had an abortion).

The X judgement comprised three main points. Firstly, people had a right to information about abortion. This may seem strange, but up until then there was heavy censorship of anything that did not agree with Catholic teaching. If any book mentioned abortion, even in an offhand manner, it would be banned. Secondly, the Supreme Court ruled that people had a right to travel to get an abortion (again this sounds outrageous that a Court had to rule this, but Ireland at the time was a very narrow minded place, still in the grips of the Church. Contraceptives were not available until the 80s and even then only for married couples, homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised until 1993, divorce was allowed until a referendum narrowly passed it in 1996.)

The third and most contentious decision was that abortion was permissible if the mother’s life was in danger, including the danger of suicide. This is probably the most contentious Court judgement in Irish history and lead to no end of debate and argument. In 1992, three referendums were held simultaneously on the X case rulings. The first two, (on right to information and right to travel) were passed, though it amazing that more than one third voted against basic rights to travel and information. The third referendum would have legalised abortion if the mother’s life was in risk, but not in the case of suicide. This was seen as too restrictive by the pro-choice side and too liberal by the pro-life side and was defeated by two-thirds to one-third. A second attempt was made in 2002 to pass the referendum again without the suicide conditionality and again this motion was defeated (though the split was almost 50-50).

Then there was the D Case where a 17 year old girl discovered her foetus had a medical condition (called anencephaly) which means that it won’t survive outside the womb. For obvious reasons she did not want to carry around a foetus only for it to die in front of her. The issue arose because D was in state care after being taken from an abusive family. As the state was her guardian it had power to refuse to allow her to travel. As neither her life was in danger nor was she suicidal she was refused to get an abortion. Despite pointing out the very obvious fact that it would be pointlessly cruel to force her to continue to her pregnancy, the state fought the case (you would think the State had bigger targets to bring to court than pregnant teenage girls). She eventually won the court case.

In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights made a landmark ruling in what became known as the A,B and C case. Three women living in Ireland (two were Irish and one was Lithuanian) brought cases to Europe for the right to an abortion. A was unemployed and living in poverty with a history of alcohol addiction with children in foster care. She naturally felt that she was not in a position to raise another child and that it would be more responsible to have an abortion. B became pregnant after the morning after pill failed to work. C was in remission from cancer and was unsure if she could receive treatment while pregnant. All three women suffer medical complications and bleeding from the abortion and could not get adequate medical care due to the confusion over the state of Irish law. The Court ruled that while there was no right to an abortion, the right to privacy was being violated and that government would have to clarify its abortion laws. In typical Irish style, the government did everything possible to kick the can down the road.

This left Ireland in the confusing state where no one really knew what the law on abortion was. Politicians continued to avoid the problem as best as they could and thousands of women travelled every year to England to get abortions while the rest of the country looked the other way. This unnecessary secrecy makes the women involved feel like criminals and feel like they have a stigma that prevents them from telling other people. As a result they cannot get post abortion treatment either medically or mentally and instead must suffer in silence.

All of which changed on October 28th 2012 when Savita Halapanavar died in hospital. She had been denied treatment as she was pregnant at the time. Despite the fact that the foetus was going to die anyway, doctors refused to operate while they could still detect a heartbeat. Savita and her husband repeatedly requested an abortion, but were refused and told “this is a Catholic country”. This reignited the abortion debate and thousands (including myself) marched through the streets of Dublin in protest at this outrage. The fact a woman died for no reason other than rigid dogma made a mockery of the slogan “pro-life”. Despite 20 years of avoiding the issue, politicians will finally have to legislate for the X case. Irish politics is moving slowly and there is talk of backbencher revolts and splits in the coalition, but it seems likely that a law will eventually be passed that will allow abortions in the event of threats to life of the mother, including the risk of suicide.

The risk of suicide is a controversial issue (only the most heartless would oppose abortion to save the mother’s life). There is a suspicion that women would fake depression and lead to “abortion on demand” (a completely meaningless soundbite as there is no other kind of abortion). Draft legislation had included the requirement that pregnant women must appear before 6 consultants to prove she really is suicidal. This is an outrageous and absurd requirement and it is extremely obvious that the last thing you ever ask a suicidal person is prove they’re suicidal. This would be an extremely cruel procedure to put vulnerable women through and would only cause suffering. Behind most of the anti-abortion arguments is the general feeling that women cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted to make decisions about their lives or bodies. They cannot be trusted about their feelings either, given the opportunity they would lie and fake being suicidal. The common theme is that the Church or the State or the religious fundamentalists should make the decisions for these women as if they knew best.

There seems to be little recognition that it is not easy to fake being suicidal and even going before a single consultant would be a harrowing experience. Surely if the mere thought of raising a child drives someone to think about suicide, it is wrong to force them to raise the child, consequences be damned? The anti-abortion side is silent on what exactly they propose to happen to suicidal women they force the raise a child they don’t want. They claim that “abortion is not a treatment for suicide” which misses the point as no one is claiming it is. But if the foetus is the case of the suicidal thoughts, it is simply cruel to force the mother to have the child simply because it fits with the anti-abortion sides’ ideology. Even if someone is willing to fake being suicidal to avoid having a child, then surely that is a good sign that they would not be a good parent? Why does the anti-abortion side presume that they understand a mother’s situation better than she does? Surely the woman knows best about whether she is able to raise a child?

The X case, even if it is legislated for, says nothing about rape. So even if the law passes, women who get pregnant from rape will be forced to raise the child or go to England. Seeing as this was such a controversial point in the American election, it is strange that it has received no comment in Ireland. The idea that a raped woman, on top of all she has suffered, must now raise the child of her rapist, is a horrific thought that is completely indefensible.

We have to legislate for the X case. We have to allow abortion in the event of risk to a mother’s health and life, including the risk of suicide. We have to allow women to get an abortion if they are pregnant from rape. But most of all, we have trust women. We have to trust that they are mature and responsible enough to make decisions for themselves. We have to stop treating them with suspicion as though they will turn into murderers if we turn our back. We cannot pretend that the Church or anti-abortionists somehow know what’s best for women. We need to trust that women understand their circumstances best and provide support for whatever decision they make. Enough women have died. Enough women have suffered. It’s time.

30 thoughts on “The A, B, C, D And X Of Abortion In Ireland”

  1. Beautifully written. Abortion is the last great hurdle standing in the way of secularism. The religious zealots are fervent in their opposition, but they are unable to see reason, or indeed act as humanists.

    I liked your observation: ‘You see, in Ireland we pretend it doesn’t exist.’ That pretty much sums up the position in Brazil,. too.

    1. Absolutely. Most of the anti-abortion groups are very religious and the influence of the Catholic Church is very strong. There is a large divide in Ireland between the young, urban, secular pro-choice and the old, religious, rural anti-abortion crowd.

  2. We have similar arguments in the “anti-abortion” establishment in this country. Luckily, women who are in need, can still get an abortion in cases of medical complication, rape, incest, etc. in this country. I hear Ireland is beautiful, but I don’t think I’ll be living there anytime soon.

    1. Unfortunately Irish abortion laws look like they were written by Rick Santorum. In most areas Ireland is a modern country, but it has one of the most backward abortion laws in Europe. Hopefully, this will change soon.

  3. You’ve accounted for the injustices to women in this country better than I even could. I just can’t understand why the government won’t trust us with our own bodies; I’m almost scared at the prospect of what could happen to me should I fall pregnant and God forbid (Oh the irony of our colloquialisms) want to terminate. Praveen Halappanaver summed it up so well when he said “you lose your rights basically when you are pregnant here…”

  4. Very thoughtful discussion. I was unaware that abortion was so illegal and taboo in Ireland, yet it makes sense due to Catholic influence. The hypocrisy is astounding. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. I am sharing as a devout Catholic and the same time as a human being created in the very image and likeness of God. I cannot really imagine why people would say and argue that abortion is alright. Abortion for me should not be legalized considering the danger it would bring to a woman which may cause her to have callous conscience. The child has no reason to be aborted. If that certain woman was raped then we have to see why she was raped. Others who were raped were actually those who wear inappropriate clothes and other indecent outfits that enables men to do the immoral action. The unborn has the right to be born and have life. If that woman cannot afford to carry the baby after giving birth then why not give it to an orphanage where the baby will be taken care of. In general I do not really agree to this.

    1. I’m sharing as a devout atheist who doesn’t really appreciate the religious beliefs of others determining the choices of everybody else. If someone doesn’t believe in abortion, then they don’t have to get one or perform one.

      Also, I really hope you don’t actually believe that a woman’s clothes make men rape. They do it for different reasons (typically a generalized hatred for women and a belief that it’s “revenge” for other women’s actions), but a short skirt is NOT one of them.

      1. Thank you Erin for your input. I think abortion is an ethical issue, not a religious issue per se. Thus, though I am a Christian, I would not defend the life of fetus(Latin: little one) base of my religious belief, but common logical reasoning.

        I think the objection that “If someone doesn’t believe in abortion, then they don’t have to get one or perform one” is pretty weak because if abortion(minus saving the life of the mother) is morally wrong then it does not matter what someone does or does not believe. Rightness and wrongness of an act does not depend on what we believe to be so.

        Imagine, I find John raping Jill, and I think it is wrong, but Jane assures me, “well, Prayson, if you do not believe in raping, then don’t go rape someone “. What would you think of Jane?

        1. In the case of rape, there is a direct victim. There is considerable debate over whether or not and when the fetus becomes a human life with rights (legally it is at birth).

          Just because it is morally wrong does not mean that it should be prohibited. After all, the Church considers homosexuality, blasphemey, adultery, contraception and working on the sabbath wrong. Should those be prohibited or should the people who disagree just not practice them?

          1. I find those who think a fetus(“little one”) not human begin confusing between human development with human begin. If fetus is not a human begin, then what is it? Late vocal neo-atheist Christopher Hitchens, who was against abortion, presented real good case why a fetus is a human being.

            You are correct that what is morally wrong is not necessarily illegal, as cheating ones wife or sex with animal is legal here in Denmark, so long as the animal suffers no harm.

            A separate argument should be given for why it should be illegal.

          2. If I may add. Consider we are about to demolish a building, and there is a considerable debate over whether or not there is someone in the building. Should we go about a boom the place down?

            1. That’s a terrible analogy. In rape there is a clear living, feeling, breathing victim. There is a clear oppressor and victim. This is not the case in abortion. Reference to buildings cheapens your argument.

              1. You missed the point of my analogies. The rape analogy was to show how folly is the objection that if I do not believe x, then I should not do x, where x is an ethical issue. The analogy is in the response if act x is morally wrong.

                Moreover analogies can be changed. Example If John was stealing money from a company, H & M example. But Jane assures me ” Prayson, if you do not like stealing from the company, then do not do so”. What would you do as a boss of H&M to John and Jane?

                The building example has nothing to do with the first, but a response to your move that there is a considerable debate on the status of the little one. What is it in this example that you think cheapens my response?

                Moreover examples, in critical reasoning, does not cheapen or enrich an argument, since examples can be changed, reformed, revised, rejected, etc without affecting the argument. Often they are used to help clarify an argument.

    2. Thank you for your eloquent summary of the anti-abortion point of view. It illustrates perfectly the moral, logical and scientific poverty of that view. So much is so wrong with this comment that I could refer you to several thousand pages of books and articles that discuss these statements at length from both sides of this argument.

    3. “Abortion for me should not be legalized considering the danger it would bring to a woman”
      Did you not read the post? A woman died because she could not have an abortion. The problem is that lack of abortion is killing women. We need to legislate in order to save lives.

      “may cause her to have callous conscience”
      Callous means cruel, insensitive or heartless so either or don’t know what that word means or you really don’t like women.

      “If that certain woman was raped then we have to see why she was raped. Others who were raped were actually those who wear inappropriate clothes and other indecent outfits that enables men to do the immoral action.”
      I can’t believe you just said that. How dare you blame the victim as if they haven’t suffered enough. Listen rape is caused by men being bastards, not women being sluts or dressing in “inappropirate” clothes. Are you saying that a rape victim should be forced to raise the child of her rapist? To see the face of her attacker in her child? That is horrible.

      “The unborn has the right to be born and have life.”
      If this is the case, I presume you also oppose contraceptives?

      “If that woman cannot afford to carry the baby after giving birth then why not give it to an orphanage where the baby will be taken care of.”
      Because there are enough orphans in the world and adding to that number is no solution.

      1. Well, that;s how you viewed abortion. But for me, it is a different thing. Let me ask, are you a Christian? I presume you aren’t because Jesus taught us to love each other as we love ourselves and that includes unborn babies. Thank you.

  6. I agree with the other commentators that your post is well-written, thoughtful (among my highest compliments) and “covers the waterfront”.

    As usual, the “arguments” presented against abortion fail on one or both of two accounts: they beg the question (assume the truth of the conclusion for which they argue) or they appeal to a dogma issued by an Authority, insight into the irrefutable and impeccable logic of which only the initiated are provided.

  7. Robert, Robert, Robert.

    My dear Robert, why can’t you truly use proper notation? Where do you get your data to support your wild and crazy claims?

    OK, enough of my using your method of argument against you. I really do not argue that way. Rather, I argue the points made.

    First, not many ‘women’ die because they cannot have an abortion. And because iatrogenesis is the leading cause of death, I would assume the number of women whose lives are saved by abortion would roughly offset those pregnant women killed by iatrogenesis. Google the word, I cannot edit this easily to put a link in, the word means something like ‘death by medicine.’

    So, while the death of women is an emotional argument, it is an equally strong emotional argument against society using abortion for all women.

    Don’t you think?


    1. I know you’re being sarcastic when you complain about notations, but there are 4 sources quoted in the post, describing each court case. The last paragraphs are clear opinion statements and no claims are made. If there are any you feel need to be backed up, please point them out.

      You might not be aware of it but there was a hugely dramatic incident a few months ago when a woman named Savita Halappanavar was denied an abortion and died as a result. This is the main reason why abortion legislation is being considered in Ireland. So this isn’t a hypothetical argument, it actually happened.

      Under the proposed law, abortion would be done if the woman’s life is in danger, not on healthy women so it won’t be killing women who would have otherwise been safe. Of course any procedure will have its risks, but if the woman is dying then I believe the risk is worth taking.

      1. Robert,

        Don’t you just love sarcasm?

        I am aware of that case.

        Evidently you are not aware of iatrogenesis. Iatrogenic deaths will kill more women than you will save through abortion. BTW, no studies show abortion as ‘safe.’

        1. No I hadn’t heard of iatrogenesis before. That’s a pretty big claim you’re making that it will kill more women than abortion will safe. What makes you think that?

          Abortions can save people’s lives in certain circumstances and if done by trained professionals, it is safe.

          1. Robert,

            There are NO medical procedures which are ‘safe.’ Some may have a 1% death rate. But, all procedures, and medications have risks.

            I would have to calculate the numbers, but abortion is unlikely to save more lives than would be killed by more women seeking abortion advice.

            I am a victim of medicine. So, I understand that when they say it is low risk, they mean, “It is low risk if your doctor and his team are in the top 10%.”

            Proponents of abortion make it sound safe and easy. Taking a life, even in biology class labs, is usually difficult for most people. And it is seldom ‘easy.’

            If you support abortion, I can understand your position. But, it is not the cut and dried proposition the progressives have taught us to believe for 40 years.


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