The case for Legislation 2012 – Protecting the Life of a Mother, Sister, Daughter.

This issue of legislation has been avoided since 1992. Following the Supreme Court Judgment on the ‘X’ case and  referenda held on the same day as the 1992 General Election, subsequent governments have neglected to legislate for fear of repercussions at the ballot box (the other 2 referenda on abortion took place in 1983 and 2002).

Labour Members of the 27th Dáil elected in 1992 included Brendan Howlin, Joe Costello, Michael D. Higgins, Ruairí Quinn and Róisin Shorthall to name but a few.

Fianna Fáil members of the 27th Dáil also included such household names as Bertie Ahern and Míchael Martin (it’s worth clicking the link just to see him with a full head of hair!)

In 1992, despite an estimated 4,000 women travelling abroad for terminations, it was not an issue high up on the political agenda until February of that year, when the Attorney General sought an injunction against a 14 year old rape victim who was seeking to travel to the U.K for an abortion. The injunction was granted by the High Court, but the decision overturned by the Supreme Court which became know as the ‘X’ case (Kennelly & Ward, 1993, Folens).

There is comprehensive information on the internet so I’ll just add that an IMS poll conducted shortly after the three referenda in November 1992 found that of the people who were asked why they voted no, 48% said they felt the amendments would not rule out abortion, however, the same amount, 48%, voted no because they felt the proposed amendments would not protect the rights of the mother (Kennelly & Ward, 129,1993).

After a case taken in 2005 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) by three women referred to as A, B and C; the ECtHR came to a unanimous decision that there had been a violation of the third applicant’s right under Article 8 of the Convention due to the failure to establish a legal framework to determine whether a woman qualfied for a legal abortion in Ireland.

“The potential impact of the ECtHR judgment in A, B & C v. Ireland on Irish abortion law is that it should result in clarification of the extant laws regarding access to lawful abortions. This is more of a subtle change as opposed to a radical overhaul of the status quo. The most significant implication of this ruling is that it will be increasingly impossible for the Irish government to continue to evade its responsibility to introduce legislation containing guidelines governing the provision of lawful abortions. Certainly Ireland could ignore this ruling, given that the Convention is sub-constitutional. However, the potential political ramifications of failing to do so are that it could jeopardise Ireland’s membership of the Council of Europe. Thus far, Ireland has been a good citizen in terms of complying with previous rulings from the ECtHR. Regulating the existing position regarding the right to a lawful abortion where the mother’s life is at risk would be less controversial than the alternative, that alternative being a Constitutional referendum on whether to liberalise the right to abortion to include health and well being, or indeed socio-economic grounds”. (Daly, p 216, 2011).


Daly, B.

‘“Braxton Hick’s” or the Birth of a New Era?
Tracing the Development of Ireland’s Abortion
Laws in Respect of European Court of
Human Rights Jurisprudence’, 2011, European Journal of Health Law.

Kennelly, B. Ward, E. p115, ‘The Abortion Referendums’, 1993, How Ireland Voted 1992, Folens.

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