In Ireland abortion is illegal. This prohibition, the legacy of government for many years in thrall to the Irish Catholic Church, was tested by an international controversy in 1992 when a fourteen year old girl, a victim of abuse by a family friend, was denied permission by the Dublin High Court to travel to England for an abortion. After an extensive period of negative international publicity and internal Sturm und Drang, the ruling was reversed by the Irish Supreme Court on the grounds that under a 1983 amendment to the Irish abortion law, the right to life of a pregnant woman is at least equal to that of a fetus, and, as the girl was suicidal, her life was threatened by the pregnancy.
This ruling established the only exception to Ireland’s anti-abortion policy, though it continues to be an exceptionally fraught issue. The controversy was fictionalized in Edna O’Brian’s 1997 novel, Down by the River, which vividly depicts the emotional travail caused by state meddling in private lives in the service of majority religious beliefs.
I bring up the Irish “X Case,” as it was called, because, if Todd Akin, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Jo Ann Emerson, Billy Long and Vicky Hartzler have their way, American women will be facing situations just as stupid and sad. This political rogue’s gallery of forced birthers have all signed on to co-sponsor HR3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would limit the rape exemption for federal abortion funding to instances of “forcible” rape. This limitation could easily have exempted the young girl in the X case who became pregnant after abuse which might not have met the criteria of force since the facts surrounding her rape were initially in dispute.
Abortion is, of course, still legal in the U.S., and would continue to be so if HR3 is passed since it only pertains to restrictions on public funding. Its provisions are far reaching enough, though, that, if passed, it could have a vastly more far-reaching impact, even for those of us who rely on private insurance. Since the 86% of insurance plans that offer abortion coverage would no longer be tax-deductible for employers, the number of those plans would almost inevitably dwindle along with affordable access to abortion for the middle classes as well as the poor, who, at first glance, would seem to be most likely to be seriously affected.
It is the rape and incest provisions, however, that offer the best picture of the sclerotic mindset behind this proposed legislation. HR3 would restrict abortion funding for individuals who find themselves pregnant as a result of coercion or intimidation, sexually abused children, and pregnant rape victims who were drugged, given alcohol, or who are mentally impaired. Since HR3 rejects current federal definitions of rape and does not define forcible rape explicitly, it is even possible that all cases of rape could be addressed in such a way as to fall outside the exemptions. As for incest, our GOP representatives evidently think it’s just fine if the victim is over 18.
Interestingly, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that Ireland violated the human rights of an Irish woman suffering from cancer who was forced to travel to England for an abortion. Since Ireland is a member of the European Union, this ruling means that abortion laws there will probably undergo a serious review. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., our right to self-determination is increasingly endangered by meddling fools like, for instance, Rick Santorum, a former GOP Senator from Pennsylvania who is unable to decide whether the life of a two-year old child takes priority over five fertilized eggs in a petri dish.
I remember from my rollicking undergraduate days a story about a young American man who, while changing flights in Dublin, tried to buy condoms and was promptly arrested since birth-control was then illegal in the Republic. HR3 represents such a potentially devastating attack on our right to govern our own bodies that I begin to wonder if I should start marking the days until we in the U.S. will have turned back the clock to something like those bad old days in Ireland. If so, Missourians will know exactly whom to blame.