Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 

The Pro-Life Amendment of 1983: an alternative history.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 20, 2015 in Fiction, Irish Politics |

But for Deputy Martin Faraday, it could all have been so different. The Irish government, pressurised by a politically active Pro Life Campaign (PLC), would still have held a referendum in 1983 to insert an anti-abortion clause into Ireland’s constitution. The 8th amendment to the constitution would still have overwhelmingly passed, declaring that the state would vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn. Then Ireland would have continued on its “Do as I say, not as I do” way, turning a blind eye to its women leaving the jurisdiction to seek abortions in the UK. The PLC would celebrate their surreal victory as the one pro-life organisation in the world which celebrates not what happens to a foetus, but where it happens. An Irish solution, as it were, to an Irish problem.

The problem, however, was that Martin Faraday was that rare beast in Irish politics, a politician who actually believed what he said. A devout Catholic, the young deputy from Kilkenny was tall, handsome, charismatic, and had led his native county to victory in the GAA hurling championship in 1979. Although socially conservative, Faraday nevertheless had respect on the liberal left for his consistency, speaking out just as strongly on issues of poverty and on opposition to the death penalty. Many spoke of him as a future cabinet minister, perhaps even party leader.

The problem, political correspondents muttered to each other over a pint in the Dail bar, was that Faraday wouldn’t play ball. He wouldn’t keep quiet when it was wise to do so. He had been a key player in forcing the government to hold the referendum, and now he was going to take the outcome of the referendum to its logical conclusion.

The Protection of Life (Border Controls) bill of 1984, prepared by Faraday with a group of pro-life barristers, was placed before the Dail formally by him in a private capacity. The purpose, he told the house, was to implement the imperative in article 40.3 of the constitution. The state was committed to “defending and vindicating the right to life of the unborn, as far as practicable”.

This bill is, he declared, the practicable means of doing so. To the horror of both his own party and the opposition parties, all nominally pro-life and supporting the new amendment in its intent, the young deputy outlined a proposed system of border controls for pregnant women. All doctors would be required to place newly pregnant women on a national register, allowing the state to track each pregnancy to its completion. Any pregnant woman would require a special exit visa from the state, and would be examined upon her return to the jurisdiction to ensure that an abortion had not been procured. Aborting a foetus whilst abroad would result in a criminal conviction and a life imprisonment for both the woman and any individual who knowingly assisted her.

“If you oppose this bill,” he summed up, “you are not pro-life. By opposing abortion in Ireland but supporting the right to seek abortion abroad, you are just slightly less pro-choice. But you are not pro-life.”

The bill received major international media coverage, with many speculating that it would never pass. Both government and opposition spokespeople, speaking off the record, dismissed it as totally impracticable. But they hadn’t counted on Faraday, who mobilised the PLC once again, bringing to bear even greater pressure than had been brought on individual TDs and senators to enact the original amendment. First, politicians were publicly lobbied, harassed and cajoled into supporting  “the Faraday bill” at least being put to a vote in both houses. What could be more reasonable, the PLC asked, than at least having parliament debate the deputy’s proposals?

Once that hurdle had been passed, and the bill was allowed be put to the floor, the campaign really started. The PLC publicly identified who was voting for and against. Parish priests singled out local politicians who failed to commit. TDs’ houses and family members were picketed, and the Catholic hierarchy, deeply wary of the bill, nevertheless came out in favour after threats from the laity.

Charles J. Haughey, who found the bill to be deeply objectionable, did what he usually did, and threw his support fully behind it on the basis that it was causing chaos for the Taoiseach, Garrett Fitzgerald, within his own party, and that was grounds enough. A number of Fianna Fail TDs refused to support the bill and were expelled for “conduct unbecoming a member of Fianna Fail”.

With the governing coalition, pro-lifers in Fine Gael and Labour held the majority, and demanded support. Fitzgerald kept his cards close, until the day of the vote, when he stood and announced that such a law went completely against the republican principles to which he subscribed, and he would therefore “stand by the republic” and vote against the bill, announcing a free vote and his resignation as Taoiseach.

The bill passed the Dail with a clear majority. The minority of deputies from across the political spectrum who had voted against the bill emerged from Leinster House to a large crowd of pro-life demonstrators. A small, unrepresentative number proceeded to rush the deputies, and there was a prolonged fight in the car park until baton wielding Gardaí managed to rescue them.

The new Taoiseach immediately appointed Martin Faraday as minister for justice with a clear responsibility for implementing his bill.

In the weeks that followed, abortion clinics in the UK reported a large upturn in Irish women seeking abortion. International TV crews gathered in Irish ports and airports to watch crowds of pro-life vigilantes carry out impromptu “inspections” of women leaving the country whom the suspected of being with child. BBC TV news ran footage, which was repeated worldwide, of a pregnant woman being called a “whore” by a group of self-appointed sash-wearing “Unborn Protection Officer” middle-aged men in Dublin airport, before being hit with a bottle. She later died that evening. The child was not saved. Faraday, to the surprise of many, publicly condemned the attack and the vigilantism, and demanded the prosecution of the individuals concerned.

The bill came into law within weeks, and soon large numbers of women were being denied exit permission on the grounds of suspicion that they may be seeking to terminate their pregnancies. The PLC celebrated (with non-alcoholic sparkling wine and orange juice) a sharp fall, in the first six months of the bill’s operation, in the number of Irish women registering for terminations in the UK. Faraday applauded the result as proof of the will of the Irish people, as expressed in the amendment, being carried out.

In the north of Ireland, the unionist parties, both strongly pro-life, attacked the law anyway, as proof of Rome Rule, in that wonderfully first principle gymnastic way at which Northern Irish politicians excel.

Then Marie-Louise Dufour, a young French 21 year old woman living as an au-pair for a middle class family in north Dublin, got pregnant by the family’s 19 year old son.

Dufour, on visiting a doctor and discovering her predicament, had decided to return to France and seek a termination. Oblivious of the Faraday law, she was stunned to find herself arrested at Dublin Airport and charged under the Faraday act.

Within half a day, the French foreign minister was on the phone to his colleague, demanding her release. The story was the lead item on French television news.

The Attorney General advised the cabinet that the Faraday act was correctly applied. The 8th amendment did not distinguish between the nationality of the mother or the unborn child, even if the foetus was half Irish.

The cabinet decided to instruct the AG to approach the Director of Public Prosecutions to see if the case could be dropped. The DPP, who had opposed the Faraday law, nevertheless was committed to enforcing the law, and this, he told the AG, was a clear cut case.

The Taoiseach received a phone call from President Mitterand. It was not a pleasant conversation. The French President left the Taoiseach in no doubt that France would not permit one of its citizens to be treated this way.

On returning to the cabinet, the AG suggested a last ditch appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the act. At this point, Faraday resigned, questioning his fellow cabinet members’ commitment to the unborn, including that “beautiful creature inside Marie-Louise Dufour. That is whom we are fighting for.” Faraday was met by a huge crowd from the PLC who hung on his every word.

That afternoon, to massive media coverage, the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, accompanied by support ships, became visible off Dublin Bay. The boom of patrolling Super Etendard fighters could be heard in the city. The Irish Naval Service ship LE Aoife was despatched to “escort” the French ships, but proceeded to have an engine failure and had to be towed back to port by one of the French escorts.

The Taoiseach quickly contacted President Reagan, asking for assistance and perhaps even US protection. Reagan, although sympathetic, pointed out that the US had been alarmed at Mitterand’s election in 1981 and was treading very carefully to keep France in NATO, and so didn’t really want to cause waves. He also pointed out that the story was getting awful coverage in the US.

President Mitterand then called the Taoiseach again, and suggested that as it seemed a legal resolution was impossible, France had a suggestion. Initially appalled, the Taoiseach consented.

Marie-Louise Dufour was moved to Garda headquarters, and at 3am on Sunday morning a helicopter carrying French commandos from the Clemenceau carried out a lightening raid. Gardaí on duty had been warned 10 minutes previously by the commissioner that they were not to offer resistance, and the French commandos, as agreed with the Taoiseach, were carrying unloaded machine guns. Nominally under duress (but after offering tea and coffee, which was politely refused, although a few chocolate digestives were received gratefully), the duty officer led the commandos to Dufour’s cell, where she was handed over to the French soldiers, and they departed.

The government protested formally, and a large PLC demonstration had to be beaten back by a large Garda force at the French embassy.

The cabinet then discussed repealing the Faraday act to prevent a future occurrence. The AG grimaced. It won’t make a difference, he said. The act, by its operation, has proven that it is actually practicable to detain pregnant women. It has actually reduced the number of Irish women seeking abortions. Even without a law, the state still has an onus to act to defend the unborn. It’s arguably illegal to dismantle the Faraday system. There is only one real option.

A week later, the Taoiseach went on TV to announce that the 8th amendment as currently structured was causing the country serious harm. He announced a referendum to repeal it.

The PLC, led by Faraday, mobilised a massive campaign of opposition. Polls showed overwhelming opposition to repeal.

Three weeks later, 62% of voters voted to repeal. In the exit poll conducted on the same day, 62% of people actually speaking to pollsters said they were against repeal, and had voted against.

The End.

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