Pro-lifers in Ireland are still wondering how the bottom fell out of their world. Can they salvage anything out of the mess in which they find themselves as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Constitution gives a woman a right to an abortion in her life is in danger, and that her threat to commit suicide is proof of such danger? What devastates them is that the Court based its ruling on the 1983 Pro-life Amendment by which it was hoped to ban abortion for ever. The flaw in the Amendment was that, while it guaranteed the right to life of the unborn baby, it also guaranteed “the equal right to life of the mother,” which the Court claimed imposed on it the duty of deciding between two conflicting rights.
Up to now nobody has suggested that this ruling imposes on Irish doctors or hospitals a duty to provide abortion facilities, but the Government agrees that I gives women a right to go elsewhere for abortions, and the pro-abortion organizations are claiming that it gives them a right to advertise abortion services to “women in need.” They are also pouring ridicule on the authorities for “exporting the country’s abortion problem” which they describe as “as an Irish solution to an Irish problem.”
The Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, responding to their ridicule, has promised to bring in legislation or, if necessary, hold a referendum to guarantee “the right to travel and information,”- the current code-words for operating and advertising a cross-channel abortion service. In Ireland where there has been no organized pro-life movement to educate public opinion, such jargon, although understood, is effective. At a recent local pro-life meeting, a prominent lady said that, is a referendum question is phrased in that way she would have to vote in favour, even though she knows what it would mean, “because, as an educated professional woman, one could not vote against the right of women to travel or to receive information.”
The Maastricht Treaty vote
There is a feeling among many pro-lifers that the campaign against the Maastricht Treaty was a tactical mistake. It was felt at the time that the Treaty, by giving recognition to the amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court, enshrined the right to abortion for those who threaten suicide. So the pro-life leaders mounted a campaign against the Treaty, but they failed to convince the people that the legal effect of Maastricht would be as bad as they believed it would be. This failure, together with the dreadful predictions from the government leaders of economic disaster in the event of the No vote, meant that the campaign was doomed from the start.
Court victory for pro-life group
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) of Ireland was granted a permanent injunction by the High Court, on August 7, against the officers of the Students’ Unions of the Dublin universities restraining them from distributing addresses of abortion clinics abroad. The Court also ordered that the papers in the case be sent to the director of Public Prosecutions so that he could consider whether the defendants should be charged for contempt of court. Costs of the case, and those of other hearings leading up to the present case, in Ireland and at the European Court of Justice, must now be paid by the Union of students of Ireland.
This hearing was the latest act in a battle being waged between SPUC and the Student’s Union since October 1989, and it is unlikely that we have yet seen the end of it. The student leaders have announced that they intend to disobey the injunction. The Labour party’s spokesman on social policy has voiced his support, and although the government has kept silence on the matter, it is obviously going to be one of items to be considered in the promised legislation or referendum on the right to “travel and information” to be dealt with in the autumn.
Other groups who have started to organize support for the students are the Dublin Abortion Information Campaign, the Irish Family Planning Association, the Democratic Left Youth and the Dublin Well Women Centre. The Irish Council for the Status of Women called on the government to act immediately to end “censorship,” saying, “Today’s judgment demands that action be taken without delay.”