January 2017        

Father Marx and the 8th amendment

Dan Taraghan

A “code of law is the blunt, unmitigated, unadulterated expression of the domination of a class.” (Frederick Engels to Conrad Schmidt, 1890.)

It is no harm, in view of the current debate on repealing the 8th amendment, to look at the background to its appearance.
     The drive for abortion legislation in Ireland originated in the United States. American capitalists have an enormous influence in Ireland.
     Paul Marx (1920–2010) was 15th in a family of 17 children from Minnesota. He opposed all forms of contraception. He founded Human Life International and established “pro-life” organisations among middle-class Catholics in the ninety countries he visited.
     In the early 1970s he toured Ireland, visiting schools—mainly girls’ schools—with what he claimed was a foetus in a jar. It was probably a plastic doll; it looked like a baby, and the idea was to frighten schoolchildren into opposing abortion. There was no interference by the Gardaí or the state to check whether there was a foetus. Contrast this with the actions of the attorney-general in the X Case and other cases of crimes against children.
     Nor was there any opposition to the manner in which Marx was allowed to groom children. In fact the bullying and intimidation had the widespread support of the hierarchy at the time.
     The case of Roe v. Wade (1973) in the United States was the catalyst for the right wing in Ireland to seek an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland in relation to abortion. The Supreme Court in the United States essentially granted the right to abortion, even though the right was not expressly mentioned in the constitution. As a direct reaction, the Irish right wing, inspired by Father Marx, decided that they needed to stop a similar development here by inserting a specific amendment to the Constitution forbidding abortion.
     The 8th amendment was an attempt to rewrite the Roe v. Wade judgement. An important aspect of Roe v. Wade had been a consideration of when the foetus could live outside the womb. Hence in the Irish amendment there is a reference to the “unborn,” so that the foetus would be protected regardless of viability.
     The amendment was an attempt by a right-wing conservative bourgeoisie, headed by lawyers, doctors, and academics, to impose an idealistic view of Irish society on the Constitution so as to impose their own morality on the working class and on society at large. This was done with the connivance of the Government of the day.
     The X Case in 1992 threw the bourgeoisie into turmoil. This arose following the rape of a child who subsequently became pregnant. Her parents decided to take her to England for an abortion. The parents also contacted the Gardaí to see what evidence would be needed from the abortion to help convict the rapist. The attorney-general obtained a High Court injunction preventing the victim of the crime and her parents from going to England, using the 8th amendment.
     At this stage the parents were already in England, but they returned to Ireland when they heard of the injunction. They were then immersed in the Kafkaesque world of Irish jurisprudence. Mr Justice Declan Costello upheld the injunction and in effect ordered the child to have her rapist’s baby.
     There was outrage at the blatant injustice and inhumanity of the decision. Schoolgirls walked out of their classes, under threat of expulsion from the same nuns who had welcomed Father Marx and his pickled “foetus.” There were widespread demonstrations.
     What was worse for the bourgeoisie was that the international media took up the story, so they were exposed as inhumane sectarian bigots.
     The state had failed to protect the “Kerry Babies,” or Ann Lovett (a fifteen-year-old who died alone in childbirth in dreadful circumstances in 1984), not to mention the failure to prevent the organised grooming of children in state-financed schools by paedophiles. Yet here it was prosecuting the child victim of a crime.
     The political establishment was frightened. People throughout society were questioning the very nature of a state that would employ all its might to prevent the child victim of a crime leaving the country and in effect protect the criminal. It looked as though the state was run by a mediaeval priesthood.
     The child involved in the case was now suicidal at the thought of being forced to continue with the pregnancy. The case went to the Supreme Court, which overturned the High Court decision. However, the Supreme Court analysed the 8th amendment, and its judgement was far wider than simply the issue of suicide. That is the simplification that the bourgeoisie and the yellow press like to focus on. Mr Justice Séamus Egan, for example, pointed out that the words of the 8th amendment meant that the mother also had a right to life. In effect it was not an outright ban on abortion.
     Right-wing politicians have completely failed to address the implications of the Supreme Court judgement. On that basis alone it is now time to repeal this amendment.

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