Contraception in the Republic of Ireland


Contraception in the Republic of Ireland

The availability of contraception in the Republic of Ireland was illegal in the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) from 1935 until 1980, when it was legalized with strong restrictions, later loosened. This reflected Catholic teachings on sexual morality.

Contents

History

Papal encyclicals

The Encyclical Casti Connubii (1930) followed the industrial production and widespread use of condoms that usually prevent fertilisation. It specified that - "... any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin."

Following the marketing of "the pill" in the 1960s, a Pontifical Commission on Birth Control was set up. It has often been cited that there was a majority in favor of contraception, but there is no proof of this. The encyclical Humanae Vitae (1967) decreed that artificial contraception in all forms was immoral. Catholics are obliged not to use artificial contraception; as opposed to some Protestant points of view whereby one may follow one's own conscience. .[1]

Ban on sales 1935-1978

Owning and using contraceptive devices and pills was always legal, but they could not be sold or imported legally after a 1935 Act.[2] During this time a loophole was used, where a device such as a condom could not be "offered for sale", but a buyer could be "invited to treat" to buy it. Also people made donations to family planning associations to obtain contraception as a "gift". The reality for almost all of the population was that such a simple matter as contraception was illegal, and few outlets wanted to stock a product that could bring the attention of the police or public opprobrium.

On 22 May 1971 a group of Irish feminists including Mary Kenny travelled to Belfast by rail and made their return to Dublin laden with contraceptive devices into a statement on the illogicality of the law. This provoked criticism from the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland; Thomas Ryan, Bishop of Clonfert, said that "... never before, and certainly not since penal times was the Catholic heritage of Ireland subjected to so many insidious onslaughts on the pretext of conscience, civil rights and women's liberation."[3]

In 1973, the Supreme Court affirmed that there was a constitutional right to marital privacy which also allowed for the use of contraceptives; nevertheless it found that the Act forbidding their import or sale was not repugnant to the Constitution.[4] Faced with the conundrum that the Irish people could legally use contraception but could not legally obtain them, the Government was embarrassed into action. A number of bills were proposed, but all failed to make it to the statute book. Indeed Taoiseach at the time, Jack Lynch, admitted at one point that the issue had been put "on the long finger".

Reforms allowing sales

In 1978 the Health (Family Planning) Bill was introduced by Charles Haughey. This bill limited the provision of contraceptives to bona fide "family planning or for adequate medical reasons".[5] A controversial part of the bill was that contraceptives could only be dispensed by a pharmacist on the presentation of a valid medical prescription from a practising doctor. It is often wrongly stated that the recipient of the prescription had to be married, but the legislation required no such terms. The reason for this compromise was the strong position of conservative elements in Irish society at the time, particularly the Roman Catholic Church which made it difficult for the government to provide for a more liberal law. Contraception was also not seen by politicians as a vote-getter at the time. Haughey famously described the 1979 Act as "an Irish solution to an Irish problem". On November 1, 1980 the Act came into operation by order[6] of the Minister.

The Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act, 1985[7] liberalised the law by allowing condoms and spermicides to be sold to people over 18 without having to present a prescription; however sale was limited to categories of places named in the act.[8] repealed Section 4 of 1979, as amended in 1985, and continued the provision of contraceptives without prescription. As of 2010, the 1992 Act and the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act of 1993 are the main Irish legislation on contraceptive and family planning services.

A small percentage of the Irish population still opposes the use of artificial contraception within marriage, in line with Humanae Vitae, including sports personality Mickey Harte.[9][10] Newspapers such as The Irish Catholic and The Brandsma Review also have editorialized against the use of artificial contraception.

References


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