Surprise Verdict in the X case

In Febraury 1992 the High Court granted an injunction preventing a 14-year-old rape victim from travelling to England to have an abortion since it held that the right to life of the unborn child superseded any wishes she or her parents might have. She had travelled to England with her family and contacted the Gardai before the abortion, asking them if DNA from the aborted foetus would be admissible as evidence in the courts, as the neighbour who had raped her was denying responsibility.

The Gardai contacted the Attorney General Harry Whelehan and he sought an injunction under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland preventing her from having the procedure carried out. The injunction was granted by Justic Declan Costello in the High Court.

A claim was made that the unwanted pregnancy had left her suicidal and therefore a conflict existed between her right to life and the life of her child. A State funded appeal was made to the Supreme Court.

In a surprise verdict, the Supreme Court, by a split decision, delivered on March 5th, held that the threat of suicide constituted a "real and substantial risk to the life of the mother" and that in such an instance the equal right to life of the unborn child as envisaged by the 1983 Amendment could not mean an absolute equality, that in fact the rights of the child were "contingent" on the mothers right and, therefore, of lesser importance. In short, abortion became legal in Ireland by the same Constitutional provision which was designed to prevent that. The girl was permitted to travel to England for an abortion.

As a result of that decision, technically any pregnant woman is entitled to have an abortion (even up to 9 months – there is no time limit to the Supreme Court judgement) if she claims to be suicidal as a result of the pregnancy – an extremely difficult condition to disprove – and furthermore, she may technically have the abortion carried out in Ireland if a doctor agreed to perform it.

H_X_AlbertReynolds - Albert Reynolds

Albert Reynolds was Taoiseach at the time of the X case