A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Monday, February 6, 2012

20 years since the X case - Ireland's eternal shame

Today makes 20 years since the X case. 20 long years of hand waving, moralising, procrastinating, faffing about and delaying. 20 long years since a 14 year old girl was raped repeatedly by a man who impregnated her - and 20 years since the Irish state made a mockery out of justice and put religious considerations before the victims rights, before eventually doing the decent thing under massive social pressure.

International readers of my blog might wonder what the X case is, and indeed so might some of the younger Irish readers, so allow me to recap. In December 1991, a young girl is raped by a family 'friend' who impregnates her. The pregnancy and rape are reported to the Irish police in January 1992. The family decide to travel to the UK to procure an abortion, and ask the Irish police if they require DNA evidence from the foetus.

So far, the family have done everything right - their daughter has been the victim of a depraved act by a evil sadist. Remember, rape is not a crime of passion, it is a crime of power - In fact, the court judgements call the perpetrator "an evil and depraved man". They are doing everything in their power to protect their daughter, and bring the heinous individual to justice. Surely one would think the Irish state did all in their power to assist ?

No. No they did not, to Ireland's eternal shame - The guards asked the DPP (director of public prosecutions) if such evidence would be helpful. The DPP sought clarification with the attorney general (AG), one Harry Whelelan. He immediately issued an injunction and demanded the family return to Ireland. Why the hell did he do this ? How could someone do so callous after such hardships had already fallen a family ? He did it because of a constitutional amendment passed in 1983 which said quite simply -

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.

This amendment essentially gives equal right to a living mother and a ball of cells with the potential to perhaps one day becoming a living being - but the constitutional amendment was much darker than that. Abortion was already a crime in Ireland since 1861 - why propose a constitutional amendment in that case ?

Only one reason - to ensure that abortion NEVER became legal in Ireland. Abortion opponents were afraid the Irish supreme court might one day allow it in certain cases, and forced the clause into the constitution. Yes, you read that correctly - the change was an attempt to strangle any reasonable future examinations of the abortion questions. And that included medical grounds, like ecoptic pregnancies and cancerous ovarian tumours. This was the legal equivalent to "no swapies". If that seems to you like a disgusting assault on reason it is perhaps because it is. It is exactly the same as using "shut up!" to win an argument. The 1983 referendum was bitterly contested, but backed by the Catholic church, it was passed -  the results are stark.

In favour of the change - 66.9 %
Opposed to change - 33.1%
Voter turn-out - 53.67%

In essence, the Yes vote and low voter turn out corresponds to 35.9% of the voting public essentially gagging informed discussion or revision of Irish's heavily Catholic inspired ethical provisions. I wasn't alive in 1983 - but if you were, and if you voted for the change, Shame on you - I have no words for how much your narrow minded bigotry disgusts me. This amendment was intended to silence any discourse on what is a difficult subject, an attempt to sweep human rights under the rug for the sake of religious considerations. Of course, many senior bishops and members of the catholic church rallied the faithful to the polls. This, as we shall see later, is common practice in Ireland referenda.

A large chunk of the Irish population take reproductive and moral direction from a subset of people who never have sex (at least not with consenting adults) and wear silly hats. . Good move, people of Ireland!

Of course, this very amendment returned to bite us on the ass and showcase Irish hypocrisy with the X case - The family came to court in Ireland in February 1992. A clinical psychologist testified the girl was dangerously suicidal - she wanted to throw herself under a train to 'solve' the problem, to be less of a hassle. When your draconian laws make a 14 year old girl feel like she is to blame for a crime committed against her, there is something remiss - worse, her every move was being picked apart by the Irish media who in some quarters, even blamed her for 'tempting' the perpetrator, who had systematically abused her since he was a preteen. It is hard to believe that this happened within living memory.

Children - Should stop tempting rapists, according to sections of the Irish media...

The high court was unmoved - in a judgement lacking any sense of compassion whatsoever, the 'honourable' Justice Costello said

I am quite satisfied that there is a real and imminent danger to the life of the unborn & that if the court does not step in to protect it by means of the injunction sought, its life will be terminated.

In other words, Justice Costello correctly understood that a 14 year old rape victim did not wish to carry the product of that rape to term. He even acknowledged she was truly suicidal. What a hero. His judgement could have instead read something like "the Irish state has decided that the potential of a ball of cells lacking at this time even a basic nervous system but which might one day become a living being has equal rights to the victim who IS a living being with a fully functioning nervous system and set of emotions. That she will likely die directly or indirectly die doesn't matter once the catholic church and article 40.3.3 is satisfied."

The judgement was appealed to the supreme court in March 1992, and luckily this time the court ruled that her suicide risk was too great to uphold the high court ruling - she travelled to the UK but had a miscarriage before undergoing abortion. You might wonder what happened to the rapist - His name was Sean O'Brien, and he was sentenced to 14 years for the crime, reduced to 4 years on appeal. If this pathetic sentence wasn't enough, he went on to attack a 15 year old, and was sentenced to a measly 3.5 years. The mind boggles. The Irish people, both pro-choice and pro-life, took to the streets and the outrage at the indignity the victim at the centre of the X-case was forced to endure steeled the more liberal Irish into demanding change.

The bigots weren't quite done yet though - they tried to pass the 12th amendment which would have banned even suicidal girls from getting abortions abroad. Luckily this didn't pass. Instead, the 13th amendment was which allowed free passage for abortion if the mother's life was at risk. In 1992 the 14th amendment was passed, which for the first time in Irish history allowed free access to information about abortion. You read that correctly - up to until 1992 it was a crime in Ireland to even provide information on abortion. 

If you think for one second this shows a political softening towards abortion, do not be deceived. In 2002, Fianna Fail and the PDs tried to introduce an even more draconian ban on abortion, information and access in the form of amendment 25. It was only very narrowly defeated. 

Sure, if we're screwing them on everything else we may as well screw them on their reproductive rights too!

So here we are, 20 years later. And depressingly, we are nowhere nearer to providing legislation on the X case. Irish women still have to travel abroad for abortions, and despite the European court of human rights slamming Ireland on the issue just last year, we have continued to bury our head in the sand. "An Irish solution for an Irish problem" indeed. Yet there are signs of change. A 2010 poll found that 60% of young people are in favour of abortion access. Today, a group of marchers have descended onto the Dail to express their wish that Ireland finally grab the hot potato and legislate for the X case. This might be baffling for my international readers - but remember, Ireland was once upon a time firmly Catholic. Contraception was once illegal, in line with Catholic teaching. My aunt's legal case finally relaxed those laws, but not until 1970s! Divorce was only allowed in Ireland in 1997, passed by a teensy margin - 50.28% to 49.72% . That campaign was heavily church backed and Mother Teresa and the Pope lectured the people of Ireland to keep it divorce free. Essentially, the Catholic church have seen Ireland as one of the bastions of the faithful, the "holy isle". But any moral authority the church had has been eroded with its collusion and cover ups over child abuse. 

Abortion is simply the last hurdle on the course, and it is unsurprising the church actively fund and campaign against it was a system of disinformation. It is exactly what they have done with every moral debate in Ireland since they began, and I've written about such dishonest tactics before.

Since 1967, 100,000+ women have travelled to the UK alone for abortions. Making it illegal here does not stop it happening, it just pushes it elsewhere and increases the difficultly in obtaining it. The pro-life argument is entirely disingenuous for this very reason - If you are opposed to abortion, by all means refrain from having one but you have ZERO right to inflict your position on others, nor to stifle reason with your brand of morals. I can fully understand apprehension on such a difficult issue, but I have no truck with attempts to silence and misinform people on what amounts to a deeply personal and difficult choice. The law as it stands is full of contradictions, equivocations, and outright conflicts. Something needs to be done - Since the X case, we've had the

The A case ,The B case, The C case and the C case...

This just poses the question of whether the Irish government is waiting for an entire alphabet of cases to pass before it does something?

Today's supreme court ruling was brought to you today by the letter....

I have contacted Action on X and once I find out who they recommend e-mailing / writing to I will put it up here. Please check back soon....


  1. "Making it illegal here does not stop it happening, it just pushes it elsewhere and increases the difficultly in obtaining it. The pro-life argument is entirely disingenuous for this very reason - If you are opposed to abortion, by all means refrain from having one but you have ZERO right to inflict your position on others"

    I don't mean to be disingenuous (and I can see how this could sound as such), but say someone took the position that some minority had less rights then everyone else - and decided that it was legitimate to kill members of that minority if it was convenient to them. Obviously that would be reprehensible to most of us and we support law that stops that.

    Now to someone who considers the unborn as a minority (of a kind) - and equal in rights to all others, then why is it disingenuous for them to support pro-life laws?

    And like it or not, from the moment of conception there is a very legitimate argument that it constitutes life.

    I'd agree that the current laws are a bit shite and the motivations behind them more so, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss the entire pro-life argument on that basis.

  2. Compare like with like, Ken - abortion isn't some hypothetical discrimination law; it is a medical procedure that actually exists and 4000-6000 Irish women a year get.

    Now, the unborn are not a minority - they are not even 'they'. To the best of current medical knowledge they have no nervous system until ~28 weeks gestation. Up until then, they have a potential perhaps, but nothing more - they do not have equal personhood to a living being. This is even more relevant when you consider that 2/3 pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion - miscarraige. So the argument that 'life begins at conception' is a pretty bloody stupid one.

    The pro-life side are not pro-life; they are anto-choice. And it's hardly even pragmatic as the option is already there. All they do is stigmatize the choices of others and put petty barriers in the way of people who wish to choose their own reproductive freedom, and only wish to try to a child when they are ready.

  3. Sorry David but I'm afraid you should stick to medical physics as it is clear you are not a medical doctor.

    Since someone's genetic make up is formed at conception and one's genetic make up constitutes life then it is irrational to say that life does not begin at conception. If it doesn't then when does life begin?

    25-50% of pregnancies end in abortion, however, the vast majority abort before the woman knows she is pregnant. In addition 50% of these abortions are due to chromosomal abnormalities, so the only argument that can be made from this, is that abortion should be a legitimate choice for parents with such babies who fail to abort. This choice should be made between a doctor (of medicine) and the parents.

    Also it is a moral cop-out to say that just because it happens in another country means we should allow it here. This society has the right to decide if they find abortion morally acceptable. If people wish to travel to have an abortion that is their right but the people of Ireland have to right to determine what is acceptable in their own country.

  4. Oh great - moral advice from the anonymous. Your figures are bunk for starters...

    And your second point ? Well it's hand waving fluff. Thankfully anyone with an IQ above 12 will see that. National boundaries are a pretty weak argument...

  5. Argument of the year!!

    My figures a bunk eh well they are the ones taught in UCD medical school and by Langman's embryology also Moore's embryology

    As for national boundaries, well of course it is a valid point - the people of the UK decided to allow abortion the people of Ireland did not.

    ''Thankfully anyone with an IQ above 12 will see that. National boundaries are a pretty weak argument...'' = ad hominem

  6. From your logic we can say prostitution should be legalised.

    Irish men travel to Amsterdam to ride hookers we should legalise prostitution here

    Wonder what else we should legalise using this amazing logic???

  7. In addition an IQ of 12 would mean that I would suffer from the ''profound mental retardation'' meaning I couldn't use a computer or dress myself. Anyone who understand IQ would see the problem here. Obviously you don't comprehend IQ so may be you shouldn't run your mouth about people not understanding statistics.

  8. And you don't understand sarcasm. Obviously you didn't read any of the ACTUAL article. We need legislation - your hookers analogy is utter bunkem, for starters; Ireland has no specific clause in it's constitution banning travelling abroad for the purposes of prostitution, or anything else save abortion.

    Fact is, 4000-6000 women a year go abroad to get abortions and there is no specific legislation on the subject, no clear cut advice which makes it a legal and medical minefield.

    That I am not a medical doctor is irrelevant - you state 'life begins at conception' as if it were a fact when it is actually heavily contested. a glance at the 1967 Uk courts ruling might have told you that, but I suspect you know it already and are istead substituting your own definition...

  9. ''This is even more relevant when you consider that 2/3 pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion - miscarraige''

    ''So the argument that 'life begins at conception' is a pretty bloody stupid one.''
    By the scientific definition of life a unique genetic cellular organism is life - simple biology. LAWYERS are not biologists.

    ''All they do is stigmatize the choices of others and put petty barriers in the way of people who wish to choose their own reproductive freedom''
    - there are a multitude of methods of contraception and even the morning after pill

    David I have issues with Irish legislation however you are making up your own FACTS, the science does not say abortion is morally acceptable. Because science cannot say such thinks, as moral decisions are based on personal and cultural values.

  10. ''And you don't understand sarcasm. Obviously you didn't read any of the ACTUAL article. We need legislation - your hookers analogy is utter bunkem, for starters; Ireland has no specific clause in it's constitution banning travelling abroad for the purposes of prostitution, or anything else save abortion.''

    Is that the only way you can debate with someone? call them a retard because they don't agree with you and call all their facts bunk. Shame on you. You do your own side no good by using this tactic and it makes you no better than those angry Christian pro-lifers

  11. When you put words in my mouth, it's not a debate - I have never called you retarded. You however, have insulted me in the post of abortion fictions. Idiot I believe was the term.

    No where do I speak of the morality of abortion - that is all you. I speak of the need for legislation. Being prochoice, I think the morality is a personal decision.

    Finally, I'm going to use Pubmed to settle a little argument here. You take exception to my 66% figure, and argue it's 25%. Again, if you studied medicine a while ago, you'd be correct. In fact, of women that knew they were pregnant, the miscarraige rate was estimated at 25% from one early study..

    Wilcox AJ, Baird DD, Weinberg CR (1999). "Time of implantation of the conceptus and loss of pregnancy". New England Journal of Medicine 340 (23): 1796–1799.

    HOWEVER a lot more work has been done on this, and the accepted rate is now > 50% in young women.



    advise this, and if you want the research in proper format...

    Katz VL. Spontaneous and recurrent abortion: etiology, diagnosis, treatment. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 16.

    Finally, age is a major factor. Older women have up to 75% miscarraige rate.

    Slama R, Bouyer J, Windham G, Fenster L, Werwatz A, Swan S (2005). "Influence of paternal age on the risk of spontaneous abortion". Am J Epidemiol 161 (9): 816–23

    This is course doesn't include implanation fail, which is even more common - and if you define conception as the start of life, this means the incidence of abortion is even higher in nature.

    Please don't play the victim here - you've put words in my mouth, accused me of bad science and insulted me. You have the right to your opinion, but don't assume mine.

  12. Oh, and a little more on maternal age issues with > 75% miscarraige rate - Nybo Andersen A, Wohlfahrt J, Christens P, Olsen J, Melbye M (2000). "Maternal age and fetal loss: population based register linkage study". BMJ 320 (7251): 1708–12.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. stop deleting my comments
    People please check the links that david hhas used to prove his points they actually say exactly what i have siad

  15. David stop deleting my comments, admit you have lied

    The increased rate of miscarriage in older woman is due to the phenomenon of non disjunction this results in chromosomal disorders. This supports my 1st comment.

    Your 1st reference from emcom says ''The incidence of spontaneous abortion is estimated to be 5 0% of all pregnancies, based on the assumption that many pregnancies abort spontaneously with no clinical recognition'' exactly what I said in my first post

    Your 2nd reference from NIH says ''t is estimated that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among those women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 1 5-2 0%. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby's heart beat is detected.'' exactly what I said in my 1st post

    2 5-5 0% is not equal to 6 6-7 5%

  16. I have deleted none of your comments. According to this, the posts have been deleted by the author. That said you're unstable and irrational, and I'm blocking you. Goodbye

  17. I have posted the comment 5 times each time it was gone after I refreshed the page

  18. The reason your comment didn't come up is because google flagged it as spam -


    I don't delete comments, but I do block people that harass. Good day to your sir - you are entitled to your opinions, but not my time.

  19. Firstly I would like to state that this is the best argument I have ever read, and I quote:

    "''This is even more relevant when you consider that 2/3 pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion - miscarraige''
    Wrong "

    Neil, you deserve a massive movie-like slow clap for this display of argumentative genius. I tip my hat to you.

    Oh and just to be clear - that is sarcasm.

    And secondly, I don't think you could have missed the point of this article any more than you already have. You seem to have skipped the whole Case X situation and gone straight into debating figures….

    I am pro choice.

    I always have and I always will be.

    I had a horrendous abortion experience, which I will not go into as it's not necessary, and yet I still remain pro-choice.

    I have walked by pro-lifers and have babies thrust in my face and people begging me to join their cause with the argument of 'How could anyone kill this?' Perhaps if I hadn't gone through it, I would have laughed.

    I understand that abortion should not be used a birth control, which sadly has become the case in a number of situations, but the fact that in this country, a woman who has been raped and impregnated by this act has to go a different country to have an abortion is abhorrent. What about the woman who has been shown that her baby will be still-born due to some tragic condition? Should she have to leave the safety and comfort of her friends and family to have an abortion?

    My friend in England was due to have a little boy. At her 22 week scan, it was found that he had a heart condition so bad that they knew he would probably not survive the 9 months, let alone the birth. She had a choice in what to do. If she were in Ireland, what could she do but leave the country to, for want of a better phrase, sort it?

    I think that Neil has moved the debate far away from the original complaint to a more personal attack on David (whom I'm not defending as he has shown that he is well able to do that himself) and wrongly so.

    Well done, David on yet another excellent piece.

    How many more 'case x's' must we have before this country sees sense?

  20. I have come to this late in the day, David, but I want to congratulate you for arguing so cogently and powerfully for what is right and just, and not what the woman-hating hysterics of this benighted country dressing up their hatred as logical chopping of meaning of fetal right to life would prefer us say. What happened back then was inhuman and cruel.

    Michael O'Leary did one good thing; he made this whole nightmare easier for women with low-cost flights.

  21. Did you know you can create short links with Shortest and make cash for every visit to your short links.


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