By Joyce Rubotham
Miss X was only fourteen. Imagine, a title like that on your head at fourteen years of age.
That’s what we do here in Ireland. We dehumanise women by alphabetising them. It took a case like this to bring about some movement in our archaic abortion laws.
Until 1992 it was illegal for an Irish woman to seek an abortion outside of Ireland. Before Miss X that was the law. It was even more shocking that Irish women did not have the right to information about abortion. We weren’t even allowed to know about it.
I often think of her. The X case really brought home to many Irish people the reality of why women and sometimes, children, seek to terminate pregnancies. One person we don’t hear much about is the man responsible for her trauma. The man who raped her.
Sean O’Brien served three years in prison for his crime against this young girl. Five years later supreme-court judges were still busy contemplating the semantics of whether or not a foetus has more rights than a woman. Sean O’Brien was also busy. Sexually assaulting another child.
Didn’t we all miss a trick? The right to the life of the unborn takes up more space than the right of our children to NOT be raped. Did anyone go out to protest in defiance of a legal system that allows a convicted child-rapist to serve only three years in prison?
The Attorney General, Harry Whelehan was quick to act when Miss X tried to travel to England to seek a termination. There was no delay in issuing an injunction against Miss X. A high-court order, no less, to prevent a child rape victim from terminating her pregnancy. That’s a lot of weight bearing down on the shoulders of a traumatised girl.
Where were the attorney general and high court judges when Sean O’Brien was subsequently released from prison and started operating his own taxi? Still debating the right to life of Irish foetuses? Another child raped while the country is gripped by a discussion on whether suicide poses an adequate risk to life.
Our national obsession with protecting the unborn has led to a place where women are not a priority. Philosophical discourse on when life begins, the laying out of detailed potential circumstances under which a termination may or may not be obtained. The energy and money poured into how a three person panel will decide if a woman has the right to terminate or not.
Miss Y was also a rape victim. Before fleeing her war-torn home country she was abducted, beaten and raped. She came to Ireland seeking refuge. What she didn’t know was that she was carrying her rapist’s child. Like Miss X, she tried to escape to England to seek a termination. Having sought asylum in Ireland she was turned back by the UK authorities. She was trapped.
Normally under these circumstances a suicidal woman might be granted the right to terminate her pregnancy. Miss Y was not granted that grace. She was told if she tried to leave the hospital she would be detained under the mental health act. Detained, against her will, in a maternity hospital. Once again we see the use of a high court order to control a young vulnerable victim. The HSE successfully applied to the high court for an order to forcefully feed the woman who had begun a hunger strike.
I remember the hunger strikers of 1981. What privilege did they have that gave them the right to go on hunger strike when Miss Y did not? They weren’t pregnant I guess. In Ireland a pregnant woman has fewer rights than Catholic prisoners in Northern Ireland did during the 1980’s. Even the much-loathed Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher did not deny them the right to that.
A disproportionate amount of attention is focused on these women, at a time in their lives when they are experiencing a great trauma. This attention is a form of victim-blaming.
Abortion is a personal private issue, like birth control and reproductive health. It should not be the subject of national scrutiny. The prevalence of child rape, the leniency of sentencing for convicted rapists on the other hand, these are issues that could do with some attention.
How many more women and children have to endure trauma? How bad does it need to get before Irish policy makers are forced into action? There’s only one letter left in the alphabet. Do we need a Miss Z to happen before change can come? We all need think carefully because Miss Z will be someone’s sister, someone’s daughter. If you’re a woman think very carefully, because Miss Z could you.