(Gaithersburg, MD, Human Life Int., 1992, pp 193)
How abortion entered Ireland
The word “scandal” is written all over this book. It is not the scandal of a 14-year-old girl (referred to simply as X) being denied an abortion – the event which brought Dublin students into the streets chanting “keep your rosaries off our ovaries,” brought shocked denunciations from Sweden, Holland, and other “progressive” countries about Ireland’s barbarous abortion law, and gave the Irish press an opportunity to call for the country to let in the light of the modern world. The scandal lay elsewhere.
One aspect of it is described by Father Paul Marx in his foreword. While Lotscher was investigating the case for the Sunday Tribune, the paper terminated his contract because he would not publish unsubstantiated evidence. Also, some of his notes mysteriously disappeared from the newspaper office. Finally, his attempts to publish the book in Ireland were unsuccessful: HLI had to ensure that it sought the light of day.
The legal proceedings which brought joy to the hearts of International Planned Parenthood officials were a scandal as well. The average reader may have some difficulty in following the Irish political and legal complications presented in the book, but the main issues appear very clearly. They justify the suspicions many people have had since the case first came into prominence.
Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion is clear: 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 defend and vindicate that right.
When Mr. Justice Costello upheld that right by granting an injunction preventing the schoolgirl from leaving the country to have an abortion in England, she was already in London with her parents; nevertheless they returned to Ireland without the abortion taking place, and appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
A few days later, Mrs. Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, abandoned the neutrality she was supposed to observe on controversial questions and delivered an address on the need to “move onto a more compassionate society.” Later she followed up with a call for a re-appraisal for women’s rights.
The Irish press did its best to show how backward Ireland was because of its reluctance to introduce abortion, contraception, and homosexual rights. Loscher has four chapters on the role the media and in them he condemns the newspapers for their inflammatory headlines and heavy slanting, and their lack of professionalism in failing to investigate the facts of the case. They wanted results of a certain kind, not the truth.
When Costello’s ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, it held a three-day hearing during which found a way around the constitutional requirement that the right to life of the unborn child be protected. Instead of upholding this requirement, Peter Shanley, Senior Counsel for the State, made the extraordinary admission that the constitutional provision envisaged the possibility of abortion – if there was danger to the life of the mother. The Court accepted the opinion that the girl was in a suicidal state; asked by Mr. Justice Finlay, “If the medical evidence is that she will as a probability take her life, do you say she is justified to seek an abortion?”
Shanley replied, “Yes, I do.” Given this line of reasoning, the judgment in favour of the girl was a fait accompli. In his Chapter 13, Loscher gives a whole list of faults in the legal proceedings. The suicide threat became the main focus of media attention, as we have just seen it was of central importance in the Court’s decision that the girl should be allowed to travel outside Ireland o have an abortion. One of the judges referred to “the expert medical evidence received from the psychologist.”
One psychologist had seen the girl, on one occasion for approximately one hour. A psychologist, however, is not a medical expert; if he thought she was suicidal, he should have sent her to a psychiatric clinic for an assessment. The Court heard no testimony from any psychiatrist or any other medical expert; no evidence came forward to substantiate the claim that the possibility of the girl’s terminating her life was a real one.
The Court also accepted, without apparently any corroborating evidence, that the girl had been brutally raped by a depraved and evil man. Feelings about the case ran very high just because the newspapers portrayed it in this way. One of the judges referred to the crime as rape five times in his ruling. Again, where was the evidence?
When a man was eventually charged with offences against the girl, he was accused of sexual assault and carnal knowledge of a minor, but not of rape at all.
Loscher concludes that the State’s counsel could have demanded corroborating evidence concerning the above questions, and many others related to the case, but government with a liberal agenda had just taken office,” he writes. “Divorce, contraception, limited abortion and liberalization of the laws of homosexuality were suddenly thrust upon the electorate.” So the State took a much softer approach to the legal issues than it could have, and should have; and the Supreme Court bowed to popular pressure and twisted the evidence to secure a popular verdict.
The most bizarre aspect of the affair comes out in a final chronology of events which Loscher gives at the end of the book, as an appendix. The main events in this story took place in February 1992. On November 24, the London Daily Telegraph and other papers reported that the girl had not had an abortion at all; early in March she experienced a miscarriage after a chorion villius sampling procedure, in order to secure a sample from the fetus for DNA testing.
The Washington Times added that this came as a tremendous relief to the girl and her family: “As devout Catholics, they regarded it as a welcome intervention of fate at the end of what was a harrowing and traumatic ordeal.” This was a very odd conclusion to a very odd case, which unfortunately divided Ireland into two camps and brought the prospect of abortion much nearer to that formerly holy soil.