The figures aren’t in yet for 2010, but in 2009 we welcomed a whole heap of little girls to Ireland. Sophie, Ava, Emma, Sarah, Grace, Emily, Katie, Lucy, Aoife and Chloe – welcome! You are the proud owners of the top 10 girls’ names in the State.
They are beautiful names. We hope you get to keep them.
We hope you get to grow up in a State that vindicates your human rights, Sophie. We hope you keep your good name, Ava. We hope your name is respected, Emma. We hope that it isn’t taken from you, Grace, as we manhandle you, small and scared and 14, through a legal system that strips you of your privacy and dignity. A system that replaces your beautiful name with a single letter.
In 1992 we took another 14-year-old girl’s name from her and replaced it with a single letter, X. She had a beautiful name too. She had been raped. She had been made pregnant. She had decided to terminate her unwanted pregnancy.
She couldn’t do it here, of course. We have no truck with girls with letters for names whose experiences cause us to shudder. We are not comfortable with such discomfort. It is not for us.
X went to England.
Her parents supported her decision, but we did not. The Attorney General, who upholds the laws of our land, sought and got an order from the High Court stopping the nameless Ms X from leaving Ireland for nine months. She came back from England with her mum and her dad to contest the order. More time passed. We piled more pressure on the head of the 14-year-old we had stripped of a name. She had been raped. We had no shame.
She could take no more, the nameless 14-year-old. She wanted it all to stop. She was suicidal.
On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that “if it is established that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible”.
She remains Ms X to this day, but she is part of a chain of amazing women with letters for their names whose bravery and dignity will make a difference.
In 1997, we supplied another link in the chain of suffering. Another 13-year-old girl was raped and impregnated. She was in the care of the Eastern Health Board. She was in the care of the State. She was all our responsibility. She had no need for a name, so we called her C.
The EHB goes to the District Court to apply to take C abroad for an abortion. C’s parents challenge these orders in the High Court. The High Court rules that as C is liable to take her own life if forced to continue with the pregnancy, she is entitled to an abortion in Ireland by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment in the 1992 X case.
C still has to go to England.
Five years later, in 2002 Irish voters reject the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2002, which would have removed the threat of suicide as a ground for abortion and increased the penalties for helping a woman to have an abortion.
In 2006, another Irish woman loses her name.
Pregnant with twins, one of whom has died in her womb, the other with fatal fetal abnormalities, she has to travel to England to have a termination. Her name is now D.
She has been forced to leave her country to go to England. Now she must travel further, this Irish woman with no name, to whom the saddest thing has happened.
She tells the European Court of Human Rights that Ireland’s ban on abortion in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities violates Articles 1, 3, 8, 20, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Irish Government argues that the woman should have applied to the Irish courts to have an abortion. She could have been legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland, they argue. They don’t say where in Ireland. Europe agrees that domestic legal remedies had not been exhausted.
The alphabet is being exhausted too – the alphabet we use to protect ourselves from looking into the eyes of the real girls and women we are hurting.
In 2007 a 17-year-old woman in the care of the State finds herself with an anencaphelic pregnancy. HSE social workers challenge the right of a second Miss D to travel to England for a termination. Let her go, the High Court says. Miss D has a right to travel abroad for an abortion.
Two years before D was put in this position that thumped us in the solar plexus of our national shame, three more women were dealing with their own challenges and tragedies. It was back to the beginning of the alphabet.
And so we come to this Thursday, December 16th, 2010, when the European Court of Human Rights will issue a ruling on whether Ireland’s restrictions on abortion violate women’s human rights.
Since 1980 more than 143,479 women and girls have left Ireland to have an abortion abroad. The figure is not final – it rises every day. We have exhausted tens of thousands of alphabets. Now we have three more letters – A, B, and C. Three more women whose bravery, whose resilience, whose selflessness has carried us to the door of another decision on Ireland’s stance on abortion.
Listen to their stories, because every woman has a story. She is not a letter, not a statistic, not a footnote.
On Thursday the ECHR will rule whether the cases of A, B and C involved a transgression of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Applicant A was living in poverty. She was getting her life together after facing personal problems and was hopeful of being reunited with her four children, who were in care. She got pregnant. It was not planned. Another child was not what she wanted. It was the wrong time and might damage her chances of getting her existing family back together. She went to England for an abortion.
Applicant B had taken emergency contraception after unprotected sex. It didn’t work and she was told she also could be at risk of an ectopic pregnancy. She didn’t want to go ahead with the pregnancy at this time or run the risks associated with an ectopic pregnancy. She travelled to England and had an abortion.
Applicant C had battled cancer for three years. She had become pregnant unintentionally after the cancer had gone into remission, but had undergone a series of tests contra-indicated during pregnancy, while she was unaware that she was pregnant. C had not been able to find a doctor in Ireland who would tell her whether her life would be endangered by the pregnancy or if the foetus would be affected by the tests she had undergone. Given the uncertainty and the risks involved, she travelled to England to have an abortion.
These are the bare bones of these women’s cases. They do not do justice to the women or what they have suffered at the hands of a State that chooses to look the other way, as long as the other way involves a plane or a ferry to somewhere else.
The ECHR must decide whether Ireland has failed to vindicate the human rights of these three women.
If they decide this is the case, then we will no longer have need of the alphabet to save us from ourselves. Sophie, Ava, Emma, Sarah, Grace, Emily, Katie, Lucy, Aoife and Chloe can keep their good names. And we will have grown up.