The opinions expressed in the following article are those of its author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the UCC Express. This article contains mentions of sexual assault. If you are affected by any of the content of this article, the Samaritans (116 123) and the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (1800 496 496) may be of help.
In December of 1991, a fourteen year old Irish girl was raped and forcefully impregnated by a man who was supposed to be a close family friend. It soon unfolded that this girl had been suffering the relentless torture of her abuser since the age of twelve. Understandably, this girl did not want to carry the child of her rapist – how could anyone? This girl became known as X, and her brave fight against the Irish government for her right to end her forced pregnancy became known as The X Case; a case that jolted the abortion debate to life in Ireland, and revealed the true evil and inhumanity that form the basis of our nation’s laws.
So, what seems like a just course of action for the law to take in this situation, do you think? The rapist is given an appropriate prison sentence for his depraved, disgusting crimes? The girl’s request for an abortion is immediately accommodated for and she is given the best medical care that the state has to offer? Wrong. According to the Irish government of 1992, this is not even close to what constitutes justice; in fact, it is the exact opposite. The rapist was handed a measly sentence of fourteen years; but wait, there’s a lot more nauseating injustice where that came from! On appeal, this sentence was somehow reduced to a pathetic FOUR YEARS (after which he attacked another girl, resulting in yet another pathetic sentence of only 3.5 years. Cheers, justice system.).
But what about X, the victim who was left awash, stranded in this cesspool of iniquity? Surely the government and the judiciary couldn’t make quite as big a balls of her case as they did with her rapist’s? Wrong. Again. What happened to X at the hands of the Irish government was sick and inexcusable, and I can only imagine the torment that she, or any woman, had/has to go through as a result of our nonsensical abortion laws. In February of 1992, X and her family decided to travel to the UK so that she could receive a safe, legal abortion. X’s parents informed the Gardaí of this decision, even offering to provide DNA evidence from the aborted foetus that the pregnancy was, in fact, a product of rape. Everything seemed to be going ahead. X travelled to England with her parents and her abortion was arranged to take place in London.
Now, if you’re not feeling ill/boiling with rage just yet, you may want to lie down, because it is at this point in the case that Attorney General Harry Whelehan enters the equation. Upon hearing of X and her family’s desperate migration to the UK, the Attorney General immediately issued an injunction, forcing the entire family to return to Ireland and abandon the medical procedure. It’s outrageous, I know, but why did he do it? HOW could he do it? On what abhorrent, twisted legal grounds could a child be forced to carry the child of her rapist, and denied a simple medical procedure that she desperately needed? Ladies and Gents, I introduce to you the 8th amendment of our Constitution.
Being the mammoth issue that it is in our society today, I’m sure most of you have at least heard of the 8th amendment and the campaign to repeal it; but for those of you who haven’t, the amendment states the following: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” So, in simple terms, a woman’s rights are viewed as equal to the rights of the unborn child inside her womb (which in many cases exists as nothing more than a cluster of cells).
In X’s case, the 8th amendment was employed by the Attorney General to prevent her from receiving an abortion, either in Ireland or abroad (they literally restrained her from leaving the country for nine months – until she had the baby). Even after the girl fell (was pushed, more like) into a deep depression, the High Court remained steadfast in their views and refused to grant X the right to an abortion. X became suicidal, confessing to her mother that she was contemplating ending her own life to “solve matters” once and for all; yet still, the High Court ignored her. This inhumane negation of Human Rights on the High Court’s behalf persisted; that is, until, they were eventually overruled. The Supreme Court finally granted X the right to an abortion, but it was too late. In March of 1992, X suffered a miscarriage in an English hospital. She lost her fight for justice, but her case sparked a blazing outrage in thousands of pro-choice activists which has endured and strengthened over the years.
The X case was a major catalyst for pro-choice activism in this country, for sure. However, to this day, our oppressive abortion laws remain unchanged. To this day, our Constitution remains defaced by an amendment born from unashamed misogyny and religious exploitation. So, as a referendum to have this eighth amendment repealed edges closer and closer, let’s all keep in mind the victims that it has claimed over the years. Let’s remember X, and countless others like her, who have been denied their basic human rights because of an inhumane, outdated, tyrannical piece of legislation. Let’s remember the cruel mistakes of our past, and learn from them. Let’s give Irish women their right to choice. It’s time.