Only two months ago most people in Ireland believed that 1983 Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed that abortion could never be made legal in this country.
But today, as a result of decision by “ Five Wigged Men, Solemn as Sin,” according to a headline in the Irish Times, abortion is legal, on demand, whenever a woman threatens suicide.
The case began January 27, when a 14-year-old girl, questioned by her mother about her menstrual periods, she said she had been molested over a two year period by a neighbor.
Her parents decided to take her to England for an abortion, but first, in what can only be called a most improbable action in a country where abortion is illegal, they went to the police and asked whether fetal tissue from the aborted baby would be acceptable in court in the event of legal action against the alleged molester.
The question about the acceptability of fetal tissue as evidence moved from the local police to Headquarters and from there to the Attorney General, who sent it to the High Court for an injunction to prevent the girl traveling to England for the Abortion.
By the time the injunction was granted, the girl and her parents were already in England at the abortion clinic. However, before gong there they took the highly unusual step of leaving a forwarding address and telephone number with the police.
On being informed of the injunction, the family returned home, even though they were outside the jurisdiction of the Irish law. In other words, they could have proceeded with the already-scheduled abortion and suffered no legal consequences!
After their return there was another appearance at the High Court. At that time the court made permanent the temporary injunction it had granted to the Attorney General.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Charlie Haughey resigned and was replaced by Albert Reynolds. On taking office, Mr. Reynolds installed a new Cabinet; the changeover coincided with a blizzard of publicity in the media about the alleged rape victim denied an abortion.
The alleged molester repeatedly offered to undergo any available test, even at his own expense, to prove that he was not the father of the girls baby.
He has now submitted to genetic screening, but the media have not reported the result. It is widely rumored, based on information from neighbors, that the real father is a third-world student aged 17, with whom the girl has been associated for the past two years.
As one of his first actions on taking office, Prime Minister Reynolds urged the girls parents to appeal to the Supreme Court to have the injunction lifted.
At a press conference he announced that should they appeal, the Government would pay their legal costs. The offer was accepted. In a later meeting with the media, Mr. Reynolds, on being asked if they would defend the case against the injunction, said “The government will, of course, defend, but we’ll not be pushing too hard,”
That, in fact, was the understatement of the year.
During the course of the Supreme Court hearing the barrister representing the State, Mr. Peter Shanley, made several statements that were most damaging to his own case.
He did not challenge the assertion that because the girl had said that she “felt like ending it all,” she was suicidal, and therefore in “imminent danger of death.”
If she was in imminent danger of death, he conceded, there had to be only one solution: the child must be aborted, because the constitution guarantees the “ equal right to life of the mother.”
The girl had spoken of ending it all” when questioned by a psychologist after her mother had found out that she was pregnant. Up to that point, two months into the pregnancy, she had shown no signs of being suicidal.
Her behaviour must have been very normal indeed when one remembers that her parents had noticed nothing until her mother observed that she was not menstruating regularly.
The only “expert witness” called before the court was this same psychologist.
He testified that he had worked with teenagers, mostly in connection with drug problems in England and in Ireland. If a young person threatens to commit suicide, he stated, there is no way one can be certain that the threat will not be carried out. Therefore, one must accept that the threat is real.
State Counsel made no attempt to refute this statement and, as stated above, conceded that if it placed her in “imminent danger of death” the Constitution guaranteed her an abortion.
The decision of the Court
When the Court decided to “allow the girl to travel to England,” all sides expressed relief.
The Government was delighted because it seemed now that they were off the hook. The pro-abortionists and the media were delighted because they recognized what had happened. Even the national leaders of the pro-life movement declared them selves pleased, “ now that it was established that Article 40:3.3 of the Irish Constitution did not impede ‘travel’.”
A spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops hailed the Courts decision as wise and just. Ordinary pro-lifers in all parts of Ireland were shocked, as much by the reaction of the bishops and the national pro-life leader as by the court’s decision.
All parties concerned knew that ‘travel’ in this case meant abortion, and that the Court had just sentenced a baby to death, but the pro-life leaders, and the Bishops who had been the targets of the furious and sustained tirade of hatred and ridicule in the news media for a couple of weeks., felt that the storm was over and they could now breath again.
Their relief was not to last very long. When the court published its findings and reasons in detail a few days later, it was seen that, although it had lifted the injunction which prohibited the girl from going to England for an abortion, the issue it had addressed was not the right to travel but the right to have an abortion.
Article 40:3.3 of the constitution reads:
“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.”
Four of the five judges ruled that there was “ a real and substantial risk” that the girl would take her own life and that this constituted an imminent threat to her life. The constitution, they said, should be interpreted “ in accordance with prevailing ideas” and should be considered in “ prudence, justice and charity.”
This makes abortion a “right” available to any woman who threatens to commit suicide.