Monday 21 January 2013

Abortion and how Ireland forgot it was a democracy

Do you believe in democracy? Do you believe it's a good form of government? Do you, like me, criticise other countries when it appears that their electoral/voting practises are corrupt and rigged and the people aren't listened to?
If you said yes to all of the above then you believe in a form of government that gives equal representation to all citizens, a form of government which listens to and represents the people of the country.

There are countries whose citizen's aren't so lucky. There are countries where the democratic process is not respected, where elections are rigged, where gerrymandering occurs and where peoples rights and voices are not respected. Ireland is one of those countries.

Ireland fought for the right to independence against our old colonial neighbour. Ireland fought for the right to freedom to be represented in government and eventually to have its independence and its own government, in its own country, that listened to the voices of all of its people.


The first inkling of there being something foul in the state of this country was in 1992 when a fourteen year old child was raped and became pregnant as a result. The girl and her family had travelled to England in order for her to have an abortion but were summoned back by an injunction sought the Attorney General Harry Whelehan and granted by the High Court. This injunction was appealed to the Supreme Court and was overturned by a majority of four to one. The Supreme Court ruled that a woman had a right to an abortion under Article 40.3.3 if there was a real and substantial risk to her life (but not her health) including the threat of suicide. Later that same year the people went to the polls and voted for a)'the right to travel' (to another jurisdiction for abortion), b)'the right to information' (regarding abortion) and c)the right to abortion if there is real and substantial danger to the life (but not the health) of the woman. Crucially in this referendum the people also rejected the Twelfth Amendment which sought to remove the risk of suicide as grounds for an abortion.


The people voted but it appeared the government didn't care. One of the main tasks of any country's government (particularly in a democracy) is to legislate on what the people have voted on and adjust the constitution accordingly, but this didn't happen. The government buried their heads in the sand and refused to act and refused to listen to the will of the people. 

Nothing happened until 2002 when the government and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (because of a promise made to his mother) decided to hold another referendum to remove the threat of suicide. This proved that not only were the government not listening to the people's views on the previous referendum, they were in essence riding rough shod over the previous vote before it had even been legislated for. Once again the people voted to retain the risk of suicide as a real and substantial risk and once again the government failed to do their duty and legislate.

In 2010 three women, know as A, B and C took a case against Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled in the case of C that Ireland had violated article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights because it was uncertain and unclear whether she could have access to abortion in a situation where she believed that her pregnancy was life threatening. The court also noted the "significant chilling" effect of Irish legislation (with regard to abortion). The ECHR recommended that Ireland would have to clarify whether and under which circumstances an abortion may be performed to save the life of a pregnant women.

This country has the nerve to call itself a republic and a democracy and yet sees fit to ignore
A Supreme Court Ruling
Two Referendum
A European Court of Human Rights Ruling

 How can we criticise processes in places like Russia, the Middle East, Zimbabwe etc., when we appear to be a democracy in name only, when our own government doesn't respect our voices. Regardless of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, the democratic process has to be upheld and the voices of the people have to be heard and respected. This debate is not just about abortion, it is about respecting the democratic process that our country was once so proud of and making Ireland into a democracy that we can be proud of once again.


  1. The problem with this is that, if you accept such things must be decided by majority rule, you then must accept the right to life of the "unborn" voted for by the Irish people in 1983, and also reflect on just how close the 2002 referendum came to passing. It failed by the narrowest of margins and only because Dana(!) campaigned for the "No" side.
    Justice is not always served by majority rule.

  2. You refer to article 40.3.3 which also gives the pregnant woman a right to life, and was what the Supreme Court used in their 1992 judgement. If we have another referendum which either removes any x case legislation, or removes the threat of suicide, then yes I accept the will of the people. To ignore the will of the people, or to go against it would be entering into very dangerous territory.

    If not a majority rule (ie through referendum) may I ask what alternative you suggest?

    1. I would argue that there are inalienable human rights that are independent of the will of a mob. Laws on slavery and homosexuality, among others, have been changed by governments against the will of a majority, on the basis that they were unjust laws. It can certainly be argued that laws denying a woman autonomy over her own body are similarly unjust regardless of the views of the majority. (Of course, it can also be argued that laws allowing an "unborn child" to be "murdered" are inherently unjust.) The only way to decide is to try to convince enough people to change their minds and then get a government to act accordingly. Which is democracy. So, short answer, I don't have a better alternative, just pointing out the problems with what we have.

    2. I don't think one can equate legislating for X as the same as slavery, that's just emotive hyperbole. X case legislation will be on very narrow grounds where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman (and one could argue, by default to that of the unborn also, people often forget this).

      If we are not going by referendum/majority rule then we'd have to look at a system like Canada where abortion is not legislated for at all but seen as a medical procedure decided on between patient and doctor

  3. Given the support Dana received in the last election, I don't think Dana has much influence over the electorate.