TODAY MARKS THE anniversary of the X case – one of the most controversial and closely-followed legal battles in the history of the State.
Not only did it spark outrage and debate among Irish citizens, it drove thousands of people to demonstrations across the country – both for pro-life and pro-choice campaigns.
As a result of the court rulings on the matter, a constitutional referendum was called asking the Irish people about a woman’s right to life, her right to information on abortion and the right to travel for a termination.
Although the X case ended up being bigger than the individual, at the centre of it all was a distressed, pregnant young teenager – a victim of rape on the verge of taking her own life.
December 1991: A 14-year-old girl is raped by a man known to her and her family. She becomes pregnant and it is later discovered that the teenager was being sexually abused by the same man for the previous two years.
Court judgements subsequently call him an “evil and depraved” man.
27 January 1992: The teenager and her parents are made aware of the pregnancy after seeking the assistance of a doctor.
30 January 1992: The rape is reported to the Gardaí and investigations begin.
4 February 1992: The victim and her parents decide to travel to the UK to undergo an abortion. The family informed the Gardaí of their decision and asked whether the foetus could be tested after it was aborted to provide proof of the paternity of the accused in the rape case.
The Gardaí then asked the Director of Public Prosecutions whether such evidence would be admissible in court. The DPP liaised with the Attorney General Harry Whelehan.
6 February 1992: The defendant and her parents travelled to England and arrangements were made for an abortion to take place in London. On the same date, the Attorney General obtained an interim injunction stopping the teenager and her parents from leaving the country or arranging the termination of the pregnancy. Once they were informed of the injunction the family returned to Ireland.
The AG’s order was based on Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, more specifically on the 1983 amendment that puts the right of the unborn child’s right to life on an equal footing of the mother’s right to life.
Whelen has since said that he had no choice but to seek the injunction as he had a duty to uphold the Constitution. He told an RTÉ documentary that his problem was “stark” after being contacted by the DPP.
10 February 1992: The first injunction only lasted until this date but a hearing of the action was tried before Justice Costello over two days – 10 and 11 February.
During the trial the judge heard how the girl at the centre of the case told her mother that she wanted to throw herself down a flight of stairs and while in London contemplated throwing herself under a train.
A clinical psychologist determined that there was a risk of suicide as she expressed a desire to end her life to “solve matters”.
17 February 1992: After reserving his judgement for a week, Justice Costello ordered that the right to life of the unborn child should not be interfered with and said that the defendant must be restrained from leaving Ireland for a period of nine months.
Although he did accept that the defendant was suicidal, he said the risk was not sufficient to override the right to life of the unborn.
I am quite satisfied that there is a real and imminent danger to the life of the unborn and that if the court does not step in to protect it by means of the injunction sought, its life will be terminated.
The evidence also establishes that if the court grants the injunction sought there is a risk that the defendant may take her own life. But the risk that the defendant may take her own life, if an order is made, is much less and of a different order of magnitude than the certainty that the life of the unborn will be terminated if the order is not made.
I am strengthened in this view by the knowledge that the young girl has the benefit of the love and care and support of devoted parents who will help her through the difficult months ahead. It seems to me, therefore, that having had regard to the rights of the mother in this case, the court’s duty to protect the life of the unborn requires it to make the order sought.”
21 February 1992: An appeal on behalf of the teenager at the centre of the case is made to the Supreme Court.
The grounds of the appeal centred on the right to life of the mother as she may take her own life if the pregnancy was not terminated.
Lawyers for the teenager and her parents claimed that the High Court judge was “wrong in law” in finding the danger to the life of the mother was less than the danger to right to life of the unborn.
March 1992: The appeal was heard at the Supreme Court and on the final day the judge ruled that the decision of the High Court should be set aside.
She was permitted to travel for an abortion but it is understood that she suffered a miscarriage at a hospital in England following the hearing.
Despite that ruling, which allowed for the threat of suicide as a grounds for abortion, legislation on the matter has still not been brought forward.
Februrary – March 1992: Multiple demonstrations were held in Dublin both by pro-life and pro-choice campaigners.