Hundreds attend Action on X meeting in Dublin to demand Abortion Legalisation in Ireland


A meeting calling for abortion legalisation in Ireland, at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin, was filled to capacity last night as hundreds crammed into the room. The meeting marked 20 years from the X-case and the failure of all the political parties in the years since to legislate for the limited abortion provision required by the X-case court judgement.  The clear message was that it was time for Action on X.

The first speaker, journalist Vincent Brown described the long fight for abortion rights in Ireland, from the so -called 'pro-life' referendum in 1983, to the X-case in 1992 and the referendums afterwards.

X was a 14 year old girl, who following rape, attempted to go to England with her parents for an abortion. The state put an injunction to prevent her traveling. This caused a huge outcry. Rolling and escalating protests resulted in a court judgement which allowed for abortion in Ireland where there is a threat to the life of the mother, including a threat of suicide. That judgement has never been enacted in law, leaving Irish women in a legal limbo.

The second speaker Dr Fiona De Londra, lecturer in UCD faculty of law outlined that the lack of present legalisation makes it difficult for doctors in Ireland to provide abortions which are, following the X-case judgement, a constitutional right. She explained that this constitutional right was upheld in two further referendums. She said it is absurd to expect women to go to court in order to access an abortion.

Then Mick Wallace, Independent TD for Wexford, said that abortion law was a human right. The European Court of Human Rights had ruled against the numerous governments who have failed to introduce legalization. He said that for too long we have exported the problem. Forcing women to travel to England discriminates against those on low income and puts immigrants in a terrible situation. He said that he worked with an Albanian man whose partner became pregnant and was forced to travel to London for an abortion. She was then not able to return to Ireland.  Arguing that it was time for people to organize themselves and stop relying in governments he said that a vote once every five years isn't worth god damn to you when you replace one government with one that isn't much different from the last one.

Joan Collins from the United left Alliance thanked all those who worked so hard to put forward a private members bill to introduce legalisation. It is a shame, she said, that the Labour Party's response to the European Court of Human Rights was to set up yet another expert group. Enough is enough. Twenty years is much to long - especially when you consider that we are trying to introduce the most restrictive form of abortion: abortion when there is a threat to the life of the mother.  

Ann Ferris, Labour Party TD, spoke about her work in the Rape Crisis Centre and the effect on women's lives when they were forced to secretly travel to England in order to obtain an abortion.  Referring to the Expert Group which has been set up to discuss options for legalization she said that it would report in four months and she didn't mind waiting four months. Additionally she said that she said that the x-case judgement was too restrictive and she would continue to fight until more was won. At the end of the meeting, she added that she questioned the timing of this bill saying that if she could not support it, she would continue to struggle for abortion rights. The questioning of the bill and ambivalence on supporting it lead to tutting and sounds of disapproval from many in the crowd.

Gorretti Horgan, a pro-choice activist based in Derry, said that the X-case has also had an impact on women in the North of Ireland - where abortion is also illegal. A number of women within the care system, like X, went to court, saying that they too were suicidal and had a right to travel to England for an abortion and were granted that right by judges. Like the south, 10 years on there has been little further movement. She argued that we are closer to a woman's right to choose, as women are taking matters into their own hands. They are going online and buying the abortion pills. She also said that a woman's right to choose is also the right to choose to have a child - and that right is also being taken away as people are affected by austerity cuts. We want a decent life for parents and a decent life for children.

Anthea McTiernan, former chair of Irish Planning Association, said that women are the experts on what choices to make. 'Our bodies' is not a cliche, it's a fact. She said that there could be no more pretending that the 4,500 abortions that happen abroad are not Irish abortions. We could have a system that supports the reproductive rights of women. We could provide a progressive service that is stripped of moral judgement. Women are the expert group, the time has come to trust us.

Many of the speakers from the floor talked about how inspired they were to see so many people at the meeting yet how shocking it was that twenty years on from the X-case judgement we were still waiting for abortion rights in Ireland. Clair Daly, ULA TD, speaking from the floor, said that in the next five and six weeks we have an opportunity to engender a debate. She appealed to the Labour Party members in the room and asked them to go back and lobby for a breaking of the labour party whip and a free vote on the issue, arguing that there is no point in being in government unless you can shake things up?

I was involved in organizing the X-case march twenty years ago. This was a very different meeting from those that were held then. The anti-choice picket outside last night was tiny, perhaps 6 people. Back then, meetings would regularly be disrupted by screaming anti-choice protesters. Now, there was only one anti-choice speaker and she made her point in a reasonable manner. No longer are arguments in favor of abortion based on extreme cases. Now the argument being put forward is that women have the right and the ability to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, no matter what situation they find themselves in. The X-case judgement allows for a very restricted form of abortion. There was a clear sense from the speakers that this was no longer enough. The X-case shifted public opinion. In the last twenty years, support for abortion rights has grown. 60% of 18-35 year olds believe abortion should be legalized. As usual, politicians are far behind the times.

The ULA private members bill, which would legislate for the X-case judgment, will be debated in the Dail on the 19th of April.  Will the other political parties allow for a free vote on the proposal, in which case it has a high chance of passing.  Or will the Labour Party in particular impose a whip on its TD's to make them vote against the bill?  Twenty years on its more than time for Action on X but will women in Ireland continue to be trapped by spineless & opportunist politicians?  We need to keep the pressure on.

WORDS & IMAGE: Aileen O'Carroll

Read more about the X-case
Read more about pro-choice struggles in Ireland
aula Geraghty has made a video of the speeches available