A Question of Choice: The X case is not enough


I remember when I was 13 trying to work out my view on abortion. Abortion was in the news, a pro-life referendum had just been passed. Most of my friends’ mothers had campaigned on the ‘pro-life’ side. Abortion was in the classrooms. I remember a teacher, walking between our desks, saying ‘abortion, abortion’, rolling the rrrs, making the word stretch. “Aborrrrrrtion - even the word is ugly”. I remember sitting there, too afraid to question.

I remember watching an English woman being grilled on the “Late Late Show” by Gay Byrne about her abortion. She said “I had a back-street abortion when I was not quite 21 years old. I had it for various and several personal reasons. I was a single woman. I had very little money.” That interview influenced me more than anything else. I decided that while I would never have an abortion myself, I wouldn’t try to stop anyone else having one. I wouldn’t make a decision about the circumstances of another woman’s pregnancy. Though I didn’t know it at the time, despite being influenced by the catholic world I lived in, I supported a woman’s right to choose.

Fast forward thirty years and once more there is a struggle between the ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ positions. Although the X-case court judgement and three referendums allowed for abortion under restricted circumstances, no laws have been drafted which would allow hospitals to carry out those abortions. The courts and the people have already spoken and said that where there is a risk to the life of the mother, including the risk of suicide, women should be able to obtain abortions in Ireland.

All the ruling parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens and the Labour party - have prevaricated, delayed, avoided and ignored the issue. This has led to two further court cases where girls in care had to go to the courts in order to be allowed to travel to another country. It has led to court cases over ownership of eggs used in IVF. It has, no doubt, led to the forced pregnancies of immigrant women who cannot travel. It has led to women ordering abortion drugs over the Internet. It has forced women to travel under stressful conditions at great expense to other countries, including women who are carrying foetuses who will not survive birth. Whether it’s due to cowardice or callousness, all the ruling parties have shown little concern for the misery they inflict on women’s lives.

Perhaps twenty years ago implementation of the X-case judgement would have been a step in the right direction. Not now, not anymore. The X-case judgement is not a right to choose. It doesn’t affect the majority of women who seek abortions. 13 women travel each day from Ireland for a foreign abortion in another country. Those numbers won’t change very much if the X-case is written into law. Most pregnancies don’t threaten the life of the mother, most women aren’t suicidal when pregnant. This is why we need to be clear in saying, the X-case is not enough. It is not up to us to say who can have an abortion and who can’t, who will be forced to remain pregnant and who won’t, who will be forced to travel and who won’t. If we believe that women faced with a crisis pregnancy are the best people to decide, then we have to support a woman’s right to choose, we have to say, the X-case is not enough.

Note: This piece was written before Savita Halappanavar died needlessly due to the failure of the state to legislate for lifesaving abortion. See http://www.wsm.ie/c/20-years- inaction-abortion-tragedy for more on this issue.

This article appeared in
Workers Solidarity 128 - Nov/Dec 2012