Twenty years ago the Irish government, in the person of Attorney General Harry Whelehan, sought to take custody of a child made pregnant by rape, because she needed to have an abortion and the Irish government thought it entitled to prevent that: their intention was to force the child to have the rapist’s baby.
This became the “X” case, and on appeal, the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled that the Irish government did not have the right to force a woman through pregnancy/childbirth at the risk of her life – and that risk to her life included her suicide. (Note: edited substantially. I’d misremembered the chronology quite seriously. My apologies.)
Nothing has been done in the twenty years since: the Irish government claims there are no lawful abortions in Ireland, prolifers claim this proves abortion is never medically necessary, and women silently vote with their feet.
The ECHR has ruled:
- first, anyone may leave their prolife country to have an abortion if they wish and the prolife government is not allowed to prevent them; and,
- second, that the Irish government must take steps to be sure that a pregnant girl or woman whose life is in danger can have an abortion in Ireland.
The first part the Irish government couldn’t stop, but the second – this the Irish government still refuse to do. Action on X is a campaigning group trying to bring about a change in the law in Ireland. Cardinal Sean Brady, who cares so much for children, is against it.
(There is an agreement that Northern Ireland, while part of the UK, will not pass legislation that would put it significantly out of step with the Republic of Ireland. As I understand it, it’s this agreement that makes it improbable that Northern Ireland will make abortion legal so that women living in NI can have abortions where they live, on the NHS, as they would if they lived in any other part of the UK. Put simply, if abortion was legal in Northern Ireland, women in the Republic of Ireland who needed an abortion would head north to the Six Counties, much cheaper and much less inconvenient for them than going over to London or Liverpool – but also very openly, Northern Ireland would be doing for the women of all Ireland what the Irish Republic will not do for their own citizens – though many think they should.)
When I was in eighth grade, a classmate – let’s call her Anna — said that she’d been raped. She told me during lunch at our desks, tipping her chair until it seemed she might fall over. It happened on a rocky lakeshore. The man came off a boat that was anchored nearby and she could hear voices yelling to him in the darkness. She was freezing. When it was over, he threw her jeans in the water and said, “I hope you get pregnant.”
Abortion has been legal in Ireland only on the most tightly-defined grounds, but where it is legal, it is obtainable. Only when an Irish hospital can be absolutely certain that the woman will not survive unless the abortion is performed and the fetus will never be viable.