Around 300 people marched through the centre of Dublin on Saturday 16th Feb 2002 to mark the 10th anniversary of the 'X' case and to support a No vote in the latest anti-abortion referendum. 10 years earlier in 1992 the courts placed an injunction of a 14-year-old rape victim in order to prevent her travelling to England for an abortion. At the time not only was abortion illegal in Ireland but many activists had been prosecuted simply for providing the phone number of British clinics to pregnant women.
At the time of the X-Case a small number of activists in the Dublin Abortion Information Group were actively defying the information laws by handing out leaflets containing the relevant information in Dublin city centre. At our usual Saturday leafleting, a couple of days after the news of the injunction had appeared in the papers, we were astonished by the huge numbers of people who stopped to tell us how outraged they were. (We were used to being ignored with the only occasional comments being hostile anti-choice ones).
So we decided to call a demonstration for the Dail that Monday and a rally at the GPO for the following Saturday. We called a rally rather then a march so that if only 100 people turned up we could just have a public meeting rather then a tiny march.
On the Monday the newspapers had publicised the fact that there was to be a demonstration. We had expected maybe twenty or so people to turn up for the lunchtime picket. In fact workers poured out of their offices from all over the city centre so instead of a picket we ended up with 700 to 1,000 people demonstrating outside the Dail and marching around it. At this and subsequent demonstrations scuffling broke out with the Gardai as angry young people, including students from the nearby colleges, tried to force their way into the Dail grounds, knocking over police barriers as they did so.
People still argue about how many turned out for the Saturday demonstration but its fair to say the figure was somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000. It was obvious that the government was facing a real crisis, as well as these demonstrations there had been numerous other ones all over Ireland that week.
Pic: March leaves Parnell Square
The courts came to the governments rescue as on appeal (and after the demonstrations) it reached the decision that 'X' could travel after all. But the huge mobilisation at the time of the 'X' case directly resulted in a sea change in Irish politics that in the next years created the atmosphere for numerous liberal reforms, most spectacularly when the government not only dropped the ban on gay sex but actually introduced an equal age of consent.
The anti-choice bigots suffered further set backs as for the first time the Irish media started to reveal horrific stories of child abuse in the various (Catholic) church controlled institutions. For years the media had been too scared of church power to publish these stories and the police and courts had failed to prosecute those responsible. Their publication destroyed the ability of the church to determine state policy or force people to obey the church's theology in the polling booths. As a result a divorce referendum was narrowly carried despite the church opposition.
Pics: The church no longer has the power it once had and the anti-choice bigots have split
The X case forced the government to run a new set of referenda with the result that the constitution now guarantees a right to information and travel. But the government also tried to roll back the supreme court judgement, which potentially made abortion legal where the pregnant women was suicidal. Their referenda which attempted to rule out the threat of suicide or threats to the health as distinct to the life of the women was voted down.
The government had promised that the result of the defeat of the referenda would be the introduction of legislation to allow for abortion where the women was suicidal. In the decade that followed it, despite the fact that EVERY major party was in government at one point of another (Labour, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael), no government introduced this legislation. Instead one decade later we face a referendum that in effect is almost identical to the one we defeated in 1992.
Saturdays march was organised by the pro-choice Alliance for a No Vote, which brings together a range of pro-choice groups to campaign against the referendum. One of the speakers was Aileen O'Carroll who was one of the small number of activists in the Dublin Abortion Information Group that organised the X case march. Speaking for DARG on Saturday she said:
"I remember where I was when I first heard about the X Case. I remember sitting in my flat looking at the front cover of the Evening Herald. I remember feeling depressed and sick at the cruelty of this country.
And then came the anger. Finally Ireland woke up, we picketed, we shouted and thousands of us marched on the Dail. We changed Ireland.
I can't tell you why women go to England for abortion
I can tell you that each of these women has considered her circumstances and her views on abortion. Only she can fully understand all the factors, only she can make the final decision.
Not the courts, the police, the politicians, the lawyers, the religious groups, nobody else can make the decision.
I can also tell you that a lot of women want to have an abortion in Ireland because they can't afford the cost of going to England.
10 years ago we changed things because we marched, we leafleted, we fought back. We need to fight back again.
There are a large number of leaflets and posters here. Take the leaflets. Drop them in doors on your street, take the posters, and put them up at the bus and Dart stations. Talk to people, tell them what the referendum is about.
Since the X case all the major political parties have been in power and all have failed to implement the Supreme Court judgement. After we win in this referendum we will have to force the government, whoever is in it, to legislate to implement the X case judgement. We will have to force the government to introduce free, safe legal abortion in an Irish hospital to any women that wants one.
Pic: PD leader Mary Harney exposed
Other speakers included Ivania Bacik who was one of the activist's injuncted for providing abortion information to women and Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole. There were a number of speakers from political parties with elected members, these included Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins
The Alliance for a No Vote needs people to help distribute leaflets and posters. Contact them at Post: Alliance for a NO Vote, PO Box 8306, Dublin 1
More information on the web pages below
WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )