This February marks the 20th Anniversary of the X case. Here’s a brief post looking over the main points of the X case along with a timeline of events.
Attorney General v. X (more commonly known as the “X Case“) was a 1992 Irish Supreme Court case which established the right of Irish women to an abortion if a pregnant woman’s life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.
The case involved a fourteen year old girl (named only as “X” in the courts and the media to protect her identity) who had been raped by a neighbour and became pregnant. X told her mother of suicidal thoughts because of the unwanted pregnancy, and as abortion was illegal in Ireland (in both Northern Ireland and the Republic), the family travelled to England for an abortion. Before the abortion was carried out, the family asked the Garda Síochána if DNA from the aborted foetus would be admissible as evidence in the courts, as the neighbour was denying responsibility.
Hearing that X planned to have an abortion, the Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, sought an injunction under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland (which outlaws abortion) preventing her from having the procedure carried out. The injunction was granted by Justice Declan Costello in the High Court.
The High Court injunction was appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned it by a majority of four to one (Hederman J. dissenting). The majority opinion (Finlay C.J., McCarthy, Egan and O’Flaherty J.J.) held that a woman had a right to an abortion under Article 40.3.3 if there was “a real and substantial risk” to her life. This right did not exist if there was a risk to her health but not her life; however it did exist if the risk was the possibility of suicide.
X had a miscarriage shortly after the judgement, before an abortion could be carried out. Her rapist was sentenced to 14 years in prison, which was reduced on appeal to 4 years.
The X Case Timeline
30 January 1992:
Rape reported to Gardaí
Parents seek advice from gardaí about admissibility of foetal DNA evidence
- X and parents travel to England & arrange abortion for following day
- Application made to High Court for temporary injunction; granted by Costello J
- X and parents return to Ireland that night
10 & 11 February:
High Court hears application for permanent injunction (in camera)
Story appears on front page of Irish Times
Costello J grants permanent High Court injunction
Parents lodge appeal to Supreme Court & apply for early hearing
Supreme Court hearing commences (in camera)
Supreme Court hearing continues
Supreme Court lifts injunction (reasons to be given at a later date)
6 March 1992:
Supreme Court gives reasons for allowing appeal including test of real and substantial risk to life of mother and McCarthy J calls on Oireachtas to legislate