History Politics Society

Why Ireland became the only country in the democratic world to have a constitutional ban on abortion

The Irish Responsible Society, of which five key PLAC leaders were members, was the Irish branch of the group led by the English right-wing Catholic activist Valerie Riches (now a papal dame). For Riches, the degeneration of society through sexual permissiveness was a conspiracy driven by International Planned Parenthood. She and her Irish followers were especially obsessed with the dangers of sex education, especially that which “emphasises that homosexual activity is normal and natural”.

The morning-after pill was also, in their eyes, a special horror because it changed “the definition of the moment when human life starts from fertilisation to implantation”. All of this conjured an apocalyptic vision: “the issue at stake concerns the very fabric of society, the very future of the human race.”

Riches warned a meeting at the Knights of Columbanus headquarters in Dublin in 1980 of an ascending scale of moral depravity from contraception to abortion to homosexuality.
The first action of her Irish followers was to campaign against a small State grant to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Its next campaign was against the removal of the stigma of illegitimacy from children born out of wedlock.

This is the ideology – sectarian, paranoid, apocalyptic – that gave us the eighth amendment. It was utterly dismissive of any qualifications to its absolutist views and saw all “sob stories” as liberal conspiracies.

Bernadette Bonar, a leading PLAC and Responsible Society figure, warned of pro-abortion conspirators turning up at a TD’s clinics: “seemingly respectable little women giving him sob stories about 12-year-olds being raped.”

Loretto Browne, also a prominent PLAC and Responsible Society leader, told me in 1982 that rape very seldom results in pregnancy because “men that go in for rape are usually not fertile, they tend to be impotent”.

She pointed, moreover, to the rising numbers of alleged homosexuals in Ireland as further evidence of conspiracy: “By natural law we couldn’t have that many misfits … there couldn’t be that many physically deformed people in society.”

These were the people who created the Irish abortion regime. Most of them are long gone from the public stage – COSC and the Irish Responsible Society no longer exist. Their world view is marginal. But their legacy abides for women not born when it was in its pomp.

Fintan O’Toole in the IT today. Emphasis mine. The fear they had of ‘other’ is palpable. Anything different or clashing with their Weltanshauung was to be denied, or even destroyed judging from the language used. But don’t think for a minute that those attitudes have disappeared down the passage of time.