1997 C Case



In July 2009, the truth in regard to the appalling exploitation of the young girl at the centre of the 1997 C-case was finally laid bare. The case was the subject of huge controversy when a 13-year old girl, made pregnant by a brutal rape, was brought to England by social workers for an abortion against the wishes of her parents.

On RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny Show, some twelve years following the event, the girl, who is a now a young woman, told the nation that she didn’t even know what an abortion was when she was brought by to have her baby killed in Britain.

In a disquieting interview, during which ‘Mary’(to use her pseudonym) showed great courage, it was revealed that she believed social workers were bringing her to have her baby delivered. She awoke in pain following the abortion and asked for her baby – who she said she would have given up for adoption.

Mary had previously told the Irish Star newspaper earlier that month that she wished her baby had been allowed to live. Now 25, and mother to a five year old boy, she says that she thinks of her aborted baby - who she believes was a girl – all the time. “The child never left my head,” she told the paper.

These revelations are especially shocking because the social workers swore in court at that time (1997) that Mary has said she would kill herself if she wasn’t allowed to have an abortion. That was now shown to be utterly untrue, and raises the question: what was the agenda of social workers acting for Mary in 1997 when she was just 13 years old and pregnant as a result of a brutal rape.

Mary’s mother told Youth Defence that this claim was untrue at the time of the controversial case, but both the young girl’s parents and Youth Defence became the target of intense and vitriolic media attacks when they spoke out against the abortion.

HD_H_CCase - Ultrasound of baby's feet at...

Mary’s case was extraordinary in that pro-abortion campaigners and the state insisted the young girl should be brought for an abortion, despite the fact that her parents were opposed to the abortion and their daughter was in care to protect her from the rapist who had violated her. The state went as far as to seek, and obtain, a High Court order to allow them to have the unborn child killed. Mary’s parents were refused access to their daughter prior to the abortion. Now it has become clear that the primary reason for the enforced separation of a young rape victim from her own mother and father was to ensure that the abortion sought by social workers went ahead.

Niamh Uí Bhriain, who was a spokesperson for Youth Defence in 1997, said that Mary had great courage in speaking out about her ordeal. “This public revelation confirms what Mary and her family had revealed to us almost 12 years ago,” she said. “The state has a great many questions to answer, not least why they lied on oath in the High Court, and why they insisted that this young girl wanted an abortion when her own evidence is that she sought no such thing.” Ms Uí Bhriain added that it was horrifying that the young rape victim and her family had been manipulated by the state and by abortion supporters in such a cruel and callous manner. “The truth about what happened has been kept secret for too long; it’s time for the public to know what really happened,” she said.

At the time of the C case, Tommy Cullen, a county councillor who was one of the few members of the state-run Health Board who opposed the abortion, said that those with a pro-abortion agenda within the State’s employ were “trawling” the health boards looking for similar cases, in order to further the legalisation of abortion in Ireland. In 1999, the Midland Health Board – another state body – brought a teenager who had become pregnant in their care for an abortion, also against the wishes of her mother.

Unborn baby_07

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The C Case broke into the public consciousness when the Sunday World wrote an article about a thirteen year old traveller girl – identified as C - who had become pregnant following a brutal rape. The paper reported that the young girl was in the care of the Eastern Health Board, and that her parents wanted her to have an abortion.

An interview given by the father of the girl to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the following day revealed that it was not quite as simple as that. Clearly her parents had been told that if their daughter did not have an abortion she would die. It also emerged that though distraught by what had happened to their child they were uncomfortable about the abortion and were agreeing only with reluctance. The father appealed for help at this desperate venture. Two members of Youth Defence who work with the Travelling Community on unrelated issues asked whether the family would be willing to talk to us, and a meeting was arranged.

C's father explained that the social worker who had informed them of their daughter’s pregnancy had told them that she (their daughter) would certainly die in childbirth because of her age. C’s mother told us that she felt that an abortion would do more harm than the birth.

C‘s mother said that they had also seen the Eastern Health Board psychiatrist who was  insistent that if C did not have an abortion she would kill herself. C’s mother told this doctor that, knowing her daughter as she did, she could not believe or accept his opinion. The psychiatrist, however, was adamant and strongly advised abortion. The parents felt unable to argue with this powerful professional and they were extremely worried and anxious that should they ignore his advice, they might be responsible for their daughter’s death. They came away from this interview deeply upset. They now asked for support and assistance and Youth Defence told them we would be glad to give it.

The Interim Care Order

The following day, 19th November, the Interim Care Order was due to be heard in Court. (This Interim Care Order was given to the Eastern Health Board and agreed to by the parents, in order to protect C from the man who had attacked and raped her. It is important to note that the care order was not, as the media then suggested, against the parents). They asked Youth Defence to go to the court with them, which we did.

The parents were represented in court by a solicitor and barrister from the Free Legal Aid system. On arrival at Smithfield Courthouse the parents told the legal people that they would be opposing abortion for their daughter. In court the EHB applied for an abortion for C. The parents opposed this, the Interim Care Order was extended for two days and a full days hearing was set for Friday 21st November. At the court Youth Defence were obliged to protect the parents from the hordes of journalists who were most persistent and intimidating in their manner.

After the hearing the parents decided to dismiss their legal representatives and to get another legal team. They had no money and time was short so YD offered to help pay the legal fees. That evening another solicitor was contacted and he set about getting barristers and arranging consultations for the following day. Thursday, 20th November was taken up with preparations for Friday’s case On Friday 21st November, dozens of journalists swarmed around the court in Smithfield and now that they knew the parents were opposing abortion, their attitude was hostile and intimidating.

As the hearing began, Justice Mary Fahey ordered the court cleared with particular reference to the journalists who re-grouped across the road with long-lensed cameras poised. After a complaint, a further order that no photographs were to be taken was given by a Garda Sergeant and the media were ordered to disperse from across the road. However, they remained in the vicinity.

A Death Sentence

The court went on all day and the new legal team fought very hard for their clients and for the young girl, C. The parents had requested that a psychiatrist of their own choosing be allowed to see C - a perfectly reasonable request. At the end of a long day the judge refused their request. Neither would she order the EHB to allow the parents to meet with their daughter.

During the hearing, witnesses for the Eastern Health Board swore that C had said she would kill herself if she was not brought for an abortion. (12 years later C herself was to say that was untrue).

At the end of a long day at 7.30pm approx Judge Mary Fahey ruled in favour of abortion. Little baby ‘C’, 14 weeks old, perfectly formed was to be brought to be killed in England. The parents’ solicitors and counsel went immediately in search of a High Court judge to appeal this order. Mr. Justice Flood granted a Judicial Review to the parents’ solicitors and counsel and this hearing began before Mr. Justice Geoghegan in the High Court on 25th November. The parents needed to be in the vicinity of the Four Courts and available by phone at all times during the 3 day hearing.

3 long days

Judge Fahey’s judgement was challenged on 16 grounds. However, on the 28th day of November, an Irish High Court Judge, to his eternal shame, sentenced little Baby ‘C’ to be slaughtered in England. He called it medical treatment.

The parents were devastated - shattered. They now lost all faith in the courts and any hope of getting justice and they were fearful of going to the Supreme Court.

Unsupervised Visit

All this time the parents had been seeking an unsupervised visit with their daughter. They now sought an immediate visit as they were convinced that their daughter had been brainwashed (their own words) and bullied into accepting the abortion. They said that their daughter would certainly not know what was involved in abortion. They were desperately anxious that an obstetrician and psychiatrist should see ‘C’. On the 29th November they dictated the following note to Mrs Roisin Shortall, the Chairman of the Eastern Health Board.

Dear Mrs Shortall, We, the parents of ‘C’- the girl in the abortion case -, want to see our daughter and want to see her now before any abortion people go near her. As you know there is no care order against us, we have done no wrong but we have been denied access to our daughter. My wife, M, and mother of our daughter, C, is in deep distress because she cannot be near her daughter in her hour of need. We want you as Chairperson of the Eastern Health Board to arrange a non-supervised meeting for us with our daughter. And we wish to tell you that if our daughter is harmed in any way by the planned abortion, we will take legal action in the future against the Eastern Health Board. This letter was delivered to Mrs. Shortall house on Saturday evening. The E.H.B. agreed to a meeting on Saturday 30th to take place in Bridge Street, Dublin 8 in the offices of the E.H.B. Solicitors - Roger Green & Sons. On Sunday, 30th November, the parents went to Bridge Street with a family doctor and some friends. On arrival they were confronted by an EHB solicitor, a Garda and 3 social workers. The parents asked to speak to their daughter alone. This was refused and the solicitor for the EHB said that she did not wish to speak to them. (C also later told her mother that this was untrue)

They also refused to let the doctor see ‘C’ or to accompany the parents. There was a hard determination on the part of the E.H.B. people to go ahead with the abortion at all costs and there was an absolutism which was quiet menacing.

A last effort

It was decided that now the parents would speak to the media in a last attempt to gain access to their daughter before the abortion. On December 1st C's parents went to RTÉ radio and television. They begged for access to their daughter. They said that the EHB had effectively kidnapped their daughter and were now arranging the murder of their grandchild. They said that abortion was anathema to the travelling people and they asked that in the event of the killing being carried out that the baby’s body be brought back and given a Christian burial. All the desperate pleas fell on deaf ears. Politicians were lobbied and the following message was sent to Brian Cowan.

Dear Brian, We are the parents of the girl in the abortion case. We want a private visit with our daughter and we want to bring a doctor. There is no care order against us and we have done nothing wrong. We appeal to you and we beg you as Minister for Health to help us to get a private visit with our daughter with our doctor present. We want this visit in the morning, up to now the E.H.B. has been offering us supervised visits at short notice. Could you speak to us on the phone today. Please help us today.

A constituent of Mr. Cowan rang him the following day. Mr. Cowan was upset because the constituent had his mobile phone no, but he was not upset that an Irish child was about to be murdered. He said he could do nothing and that it was all decided by the courts. He later stated that he had been assured by the E.H.B. that everything had been done regarding visits for the parents. After a day of desperate lobbying and discussion, another party suggested that an application of Habeas Corpus be brought to the High Court on behalf of the unborn child itself. (The parent's legal people were not empowered to do this). Consequently on Tuesday afternoon, the 2nd December, affidavits were prepared. Mr. Joe McDonough agreed to be the applicant for Baby ‘C’. The E.H.B. were informed that the application would be made first thing the following morning - Wednesday 3rd December. The next day in the High Court before Mr. Justice Morris everything went in our favour but at 1pm the E.H.B. announced that C had gone to England already.

Baby ‘C’ who was said to have the protection of Bunreacht na hEireann was killed in England at  the behest of the Irish government. She was almost 15 weeks old.

The mother of C is a woman who never complains and she has about her a quiet dignity. She speaks gently to her children at all times and it is obvious that there is a great love and affection between them. She is not an emotional woman, but now at the news of the abortion, she broke down and cried bitterly.

On December 6th, C’s parents were shocked and distressed to read the front-page of the tabloid, The Star, which is owned by Tony O’Reilly. The whole front page was taken up with a full-colour, easily identifiable photograph of C. The supposedly “loving and caring” foster mother with whom C had been placed with by the EHB had brought this tabloid into her house and paraded ‘C’ before the whole country. A number of scurrilous lies were written by a reporter named Barry O’Kelly who said that YD members had barged into what they believed was the foster parent’s house and had terrified C. No member of YD ever went near the house and no member of YD had spoken to C, during the case. Youth Defence acted only to help C and save her unborn baby. Later the editor of The Star, Gerry Regan, admitted that the foster mother had been paid by the tabloid.

The High Court Judgement

The most salient points in regard to Justice Geoghegan’s judgement were:

(1) Throughout the judgement the unborn baby was referred to as “the baby” and “the child”, so it was acknowledged that a living baby was being sentenced to death.

(2) Barrister Mr. O’Neill had asked for a short adjournment in the District Court so that he could consult a psychiatrist with a view to cross questioning Dr. Byrne, the EHB psychiatrist (who is incidentally a brother of the Attorney General). In the High Court, Mr. Geoghegan’s acknowledged that Judge Fahey was wrong to refuse Mr. O’Neill but he did nothing to remedy this.

(3) Mr. Geoghegan refused the urgent request for an independent psychiatrist even though Judge Fahey had stated that having spoken to ‘C’ on the 21st of November, she (Fahey) did not believe the threat of suicide to be imminent.

(4) Dr. Byrne himself had asked ‘C’ if she had any intention of killing herself with a knife. C had replied that she did not. If fact C herself had said during a visit with her brother and mother on Monday 24th November that she had never said she would kill herself. Yet both Fahey and Geoghegan surmised and supposed (though neither were qualified to do so) that if the pregnancy continued C would kill herself.

(5) Mr. Geoghegan described the foster mother (who sold C’s story to a tabloid) as a loving and caring person who would be with C either at a birth or an abortion.

(6) Mr. Geoghegan said that in English law abortion is regarded as medical treatment. It is despicable that an Irish High Court judge would quote an English law to send a helpless Irish citizen to be murdered.

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From Solas 1997

The Irish mainstream media, particularly the print media, have once again reneged on their self-proclaimed principle of honestly reporting events and issues. We have come to expect nothing better where moral issues and the abortion debate is concerned. The portrayal of the ‘C’ case and of the plight of the family concerned was self-serving and designed to confuse, and to draw anyindifferent by-stander to the pro-choice, pro-abortion point of view. I first became aware of the controversy when the father of the young traveller who was pregnant through rape, was interviewed on Morning Ireland. He told David Hanly that he felt that his daughter should go to England for an abortion unless there was another option. Although it was against his strongly held beliefs, the ‘experts’ (Eastern Health Board) had told him that his daughter’s life would be at risk if she were to be allowed to give birth. How was his daughter supposed to take care of the child? Abortion, he said, was the only choice they had, as he did not see any other option. The media were full of praise for ‘C’s parents. Here were caring parents who were making the “right” choice for their daughter.

Repeatedly, the Irish Independent loudly declared that the girl’s father stated on Morning Ireland that he thought she should have the abortion... but it, along with all the rest, omitted to pick up on his caveat - because there was no other option. However, there were other options, and Youth Defence discussed with the parents the humanity of the unborn child and then offered support when the parents’ compassion extended to their unborn grandchild. Not vice-versa, as Bruce Arnold implied in the Irish Independent on 22nd November when the media made suggestions of YD using a “carrot” approach to get cheap publicity. The parent’s change of mind was treated like a betrayal by some journalists and instead of being articulate and “well-meaning”, a campaign of character assassination was then commenced, against the father in particular.

According to the media, pro-lifers then hijacked the family of C. What actually happened was as follows. On seeing the dreadful conditions in which the family were living, Youth Defence took it upon themselves to arrange alternative suitable housing for the traveller family. They were given the ordinary necessities essential for everyday living. This was viewed by the family of C as a novel approach. All their previous visitors of those recently past days (i.e. media hacks) had thrown cash to the kids in return for any information which would help sell their newspapers. TD’s and Councillors were lobbied to try to get the family housed, but to no avail.

YD also assisted the family in meeting the costs of the court cases they were obliged to undertake in an effort to protect their daughter and grandchild. They were attacked by the media for this, in quite savage terms. (The Irish Independent were later successfully sued for libel because of what they wrote)

Some of the media coverage was even contradictory. It was difficult to reconcile some statements by certain journalists with their support for “some” abortion. For example, the following are direct quotations from the journalist Emily O’Reilly (Sunday Business 23/11/97): She argued that “the baby conceived through rape is innocent” and even that “it is legitimate to make a case for the child in the womb” but that it is too much to expect that any child conceived this way be allowed to live and be born.”

Some of the cartoons which appeared in the papers illustrated the double-standards and the wrong-end-of-the-stick attitude of our media. One had the depiction of a pregnant woman nailed to an “X” - an irreverent depiction of the crucifixion, and one that a good many people would consider to be objectionable. The same media would be at the head of opposition to our display of pictures of the result of the act of abortion. They argue that there is no place for anything so offensive as that. A subsequent nativity cartoon scene showed YD members dragging the parents away from their stricken pregnant daughter in the manger. The truth, of course, was that it was YD who were assisting the parents to regain custody of their child, and reunite their family. John Drennan referred to YD members as “quaint figures” and “vultures” (Sunday Independent 30/11/97), mixing his insults as well as his metaphors.

Even by Irish media standards, The Star, on the 6th December, lost any semblance of common decency. Having paid C’s foster mother “a considerable sum” they printed a clearly identifiable front page photograph of the thirteen-year-old rape victim. This was accompanied by a vicious article making all kinds of extraordinary allegations which included a claim that YD had tried to make contact with ‘C’ at her foster home. This, of course, is entirely untrue and the girl has since told her parents that she made none of the comments attributed to her.