This article originally appeared in ‘The Last Word’ Column of the Irish Examiner on Tuesday 18th October 2011.
When I was five years old the Irish Supreme Court ruled that X, a 14 year old girl, was entitled to an abortion in Ireland on the grounds that the pregnancy created a real and substantial risk to her life due to threat of suicide. One might think that when the highest level of the Irish judiciary made this decision the government of the day would pay heed. Fat chance. In fact they did quite the opposite. In November of that year (1992), they put a referendum to the people of Ireland to overturn the Supreme Court decision but the people rejected it and sided with the Court.
Fast forward 5 years and a similar case involving a 13 year old girl, C, is before the courts. The previous decision of the Supreme Court is upheld. Cue the establishment of government working groups who fail miserably to reach any sort of consensus and the issue remains in limbo. Fast forward then again to 2002, and Bertie Ahern runs a referendum similar to the 1992 outing asking if the Irish people want to roll back on the Supreme Court decision. Again the public vote in favour of the Supreme Court decision. But the government doesn’t implement any legislation to give effect to the X case. Can anyone say déjà vu?
I wish I could tell you that this vicious cycle of to-ing and fro-ing on the issue of women’s reproductive rights stopped here but it still exists today, 19 years on from the original Supreme Court decision. And now the X case decision is joined on its dusty shelf by the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of ABC VS Ireland. The ruling clearly states that the Irish government have a responsibility to legislate for the X case. And does the government do it? Not, on your nelly. Instead another government working group is set up to ‘look’ at the issue.
I have to say at this stage, I’m completely and utterly lost. What’s left to look at? Nothing. There is no defence that can justify taking twenty years to implement a Supreme Court decision. Nor am I the only one who thinks so. Last week at the UN Universal Periodic Review, six countries questioned Ireland on their restrictive abortion laws and recommended changes in this area. Every recommendation related to abortion was rejected by the Irish government in the final report.
Politicians in this country need to find their backbone on the issue of abortion because it is not going anywhere. 5000 women are still travelling to England every year to access the service and court cases are going to keep coming up because women’s rights are being infringed upon. The common myth seems to be if you’re pro choice you’ll lose votes. I can tell you now, if you’re not you lose mine and if you think I’m waiting another twenty years for legislation to implement the X case you’ve got another thing coming. I’m pro choice, proud of it and political because of it and I’m not the only one. There are many more like me.