1992 has been Ireland’s year of disaster. It all started with the case of a fourteen-year-old girl, Miss X, who was two months pregnant, allegedly as a result of statutory rape. Her parents informed police that they had arranged for her to have an abortion in England and they wanted to know if fetal tissues from her baby would be acceptable in court as evidence against the alleged rapist.
When the attorney general was informed of this request, he brought an injunction against the girl to prevent her going to England for the abortion, but, by the time the injunction was granted, she was already in England at the abortion clinic. She left the telephone number of the abortion clinic with the police and when they informed her of the injunction she cancelled the abortion and returned home.
Just at that time a new Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, was taking office and he was immediately confronted by a well-orchestrated campaign of hysterical our-rage by the national media, pro-abortion and “gay” organizations, trade unions and radical student groups.
Mr. Reynolds, in response to these pressures, announced that if Miss X would appeal to the Supreme Court against the injunction, the government would pay all her legal expenses. He made this announcement on a television press conference and, when asked if the State would defend the Constitution, he replied, “Oh yes, we will be defending, but we won’t be pushing too hard.”
At a hastily arranged Supreme Court hearing, the only “expert witness” called to give evidence was a psychologist who said that the girl had threatened suicide and that he believed that her life was therefore in danger. Far from “pushing too hard” the counsel for the State conceded that if such a danger to the life of a pregnant woman existed, his understanding of the Constitution would be that she would be entitled to an abortion.
As a result of this concession made by the State, the Court also interpreted that the Constitution permits abortion when a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy and that a threat of suicide is acceptable proof that such is the case.
By that ruling, the Supreme Court made abortion legal in Ireland, from conception to full term, in any case where suicide was threatened or where any other “substantial” risk to the life of the mother was deemed to be present. This is in direct contradiction to the will of the people as it was expressed in the 1983 referendum, which enacted article 40:3,3 of the Constitution, that guaranteed “the Right to Life” of the unborn with due regard to “the equal Right to Life of the mother.”
The pro-life movement immediately started a campaign to restore the constitutional abortion Article to its original intended meaning, which was understood by all sections of the public, pro-abortion as well as pro-life, to ban all direct abortion.
To restore protection of the unborn to the Constitution requires that a new amendment be enacted by a national referendum. In Ireland, only a referendum can amend the Constitution, but the referendum must be authorized by a special Act of Parliament to set the wording which is to be presented to the people for their approval or rejection.
From the beginning of this affair, Prime Minister Reynolds, clouded the issue by refusing to present the people with a choice between legalized abortion and a restored Right to Life. He also refused to meet with pro-life leaders or with the Catholic Bishops. However, the rabid pro-abortionist singer Sinéad O’Connor, was able to walk into his office without an appointment and have a long interview with the Prime Minister.
In this referendum the people were asked to decide for or against three new articles to be inserted into the Constitution:
- RIGHT TO LIFE – This cynically named article would authorize abortion where the life of the mother was threatened by pregnancy, not including risks arising from a threat of suicide. Should have read – Right to have or perform an Abortion.
- RIGHT TO TRAVEL – This article would permit women to go to England for the purpose of getting an abortion performed. Should have read – Right to Travel for an Abortion.
- RIGHT TO INFORMATION –This article would permit the distribution of information about abortion, i.e. availability, addresses of clinics, etc., which had been previously forbidden by the government. Should have read – Right to Information on Abortion.
There is no doubt that he titles were chosen deliberately to confuse and deceive the electorate. In the face of Government and media propaganda pro-lifers faced an uphill task, but pro-life leaders felt that good progress was being made.
Then two events severely damaged the campaign. First the government fell and a general election was called. This pushed up the referendum to the date of the election, thus drastically reducing the campaign time. Then the Catholic Bishops issued a Pastoral which pulled the rug under the feet of the pro-life campaign.
In this long and complicated Pastoral, the bishops discussed each of the proposed Articles to point out that the wording was flawed. But they said that if the first Article which would insert a right to abortion in the Constitution were rejected, the government would introduce newer more far-reaching legislation. Because of this, the bishops said the people could, in good conscience, vote for or against the article, provided that they felt an abhorrence to abortion.
Their reasoning in the case of the other two Articles was that, since the right to travel and to information are seen as basic rights, and since legislation restricting these rights would be difficult to enforce, the people might, in good conscience, vote for or against them, provided that their vote was motivated by a n abhorrence for abortion.
The government and the media were delighted and the pro-life movement was devastated. Quite a number of pro-life workers withdrew their support from the campaign, saying they didn’t want to go against the bishops. The whole campaign was damaged and never fully recovered. Only the Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Cornnell and three bishops broke ranks with their colleagues and announced that they would be voting against all three referendum Articles.
On voting day the electorate rejected the first article by an overwhelming majority in all parts of the country. The other two articles were passed by an average 60% – 40% in all constituencies except those where the bishops had spoken out. So, Ireland voted to not establish a Constitutional right to abortion, but to grant a right to get information o and travel to abortion facilities outside Ireland. The door is now open.
As a result of a hung election, there is no elected Government. The out-going government stays on as caretaker until things are sorted out. No legislation can be brought in but all parties are committed to legalizing abortion. The pro-life movement is striving to get an amendment which will re-instate the Right to Life Article and reverse the Travel and Information Articles. This is not going to be easy, but the fight is on and plans are being made for a long, hard struggle.
We ask for the prayers and support of pro-lifers everywhere.