One of the most shocking things about Irish politics in the past twenty years has been the failure of the various governments since 1992 to legislate for the X Case judgement. After a teenager (Miss X) who was suicidal after being raped and impregnated by a neighbour was prevented from travelling to England to have her pregnancy terminated, a legal challenge was brought against the injunction. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Miss X, interpreting Amendment 8 of the Irish constitution, which gave equal rights of life to both mother and child, as allowing for legal abortions in Ireland in cases of substantive risk to the mother’s life, including that of suicide.
Pro-life campaigners tried to undermine this ruling with two divisive referenda which were rejected by the Irish electorate. However, the X Case judgement was never passed into legislation as no government was willing to touch the issue for fear for public backlash. Currently, medical professionals are unable to carry out a life-saving operation due to lack of legislation and clear guidelines. This lack of clarity has been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C vs Ireland case in which it ruled that the lack of clear guidelines had led to a violation of C’s right to a legal abortion in Ireland due to the risk her pregnancy posed to her life.
We need legislation which will give doctors the right to perform life-saving abortions in Ireland, outline exactly what constitutes a substantial risk to a woman’s life and the exact circumstances in which a woman can obtain an abortion under the X-Case judgement. After the defeat of Clare Daly TD’s Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill on Thursday, all eyes are looking at the government’s selected expert group for their recommendations on how to implement the ECHR’s ruling.
Anyone who has read Kathy Sheridan’s excellent articles in the Irish Times already knows that there are as many reasons for an abortion as there are women travelling to England. Public policy on issues such as abortion should reflect the needs of the Irish population and the current reality is that 4000 women travel to England every year, and I am sure that not of those women took their decision lightly. We need safe and legal abortion in this country, rather than sending these women on what must be such a difficult and stressful journey.
I am pro-choice, in that I support the available of abortion services on the island of Ireland for women who wish to terminate their pregnancy in Ireland. Being pro-choice does not mean it is what I would choose for myself but it does mean that I support the choices of other women who for whatever private and personal reason have chosen to terminate their pregnancy. I simply cannot know what I would choose unless I am in a situation in which abortion becomes an option to consider. I do know that it would not be an easy decision to make for most people, and we should trust women’s judgement when it comes to their bodies, lives and relationships.