The recent death of mother-to-be Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway has reignited Ireland’s fraught abortion debate. Nowhere is this more so than in Inishowen.
Donegal TD Padraig MacLochlainn tabled a private members’ motion in Leinster House on Wednesday night calling for the introduction of legislation based on the X Case. This would allow for abortion in cases where there was a risk to the life of a pregnant woman, including the risk of suicide.
Speaking to the Journal, the Sinn Féin justice spokesperson said he should not have had to take this action.
He said: “The thousands of people who took to the streets in the freezing cold on Saturday should not have had to be there. However, the people have spoken. It is time for this government to introduce legislation for the X Case.
“The government amendment to Sinn Fein’s motion simply notes that the Expert Group is examining the matter and will propose a range of options as to how the government should respond to the ‘complex and sensitive’ issues.”
Deputy MacLochlainn described the government’s convening of the Expert Group as a cop out.
He said: “Governments have known since 1992 that legislation is needed. That is when the Supreme Court judgement in the X Case was handed down. The need for legislation was reiterated by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 when it delivered its judgement in the ABC v Ireland Case.
“It is a scandal that for 20 years, seven governments have failed in their duty towards women on this issue. I was a teenager when the X Case took place. Never did I think that I would be in Dáil Éireann, at nearly 40 years of age, seeking legislation on that very issue.”
The Buncrana TD said a pregnant woman should know she will be saved if her life is in danger.
He said: “Doctors should also know that if a woman’s life is in danger, she can be treated appropriately. It is now time, finally, for legislation to protect the rights of women, as decided by the Supreme Court in 1992. This should be done in a reasoned, tolerant and considered manner and with maximum cross party consensus.”
Michelle Bradley who represents Fine Gael on Buncrana Town Council supported the government amendment to Sinn Féin’s private members’ motion.
She said: “Until the Expert Group on abortion brings forward its proposals, we are all legally bound by the Constitution as it currently stands.”
However, the Trinity branch of Young Fine Gael has this week supported calls for the coalition to bring forward X Case legislation. It has also called for abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy to be made legal.
Deputy MacLochlainn’s motion was defeated by 53 votes to 90 late on Wednesday night.
The X Case centred on a 14 year old girl who was raped by a neighbour and became pregnant. The girl confided to her mother she was having suicidal thoughts as a result of the pregnancy.
Before the family travelled to England for an abortion, they asked Garda if DNA from the foetus would be admissible as court evidence. The neighbour was denying the rape.
A High Court injunction was subsequently granted to then Attorney General, Harry Whelan, preventing X from travelling to England. This was later overturned by the Supreme Court. It ruled that a woman had a right to an abortion if there was a real and substantial risk to her life, including suicide.
X miscarried before an abortion could be carried out. The man who raped her received a 14 year jail sentence. This was reduced to four years on appeal.
In the 2010 ABC Case, the European Court of Human Rights found Ireland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights.