The Government’s proposed legislation on abortion will remove one of the last remaining vestiges of an Ireland most of us can scarcely recognise – a country where homosexuality was criminalised, contraception prohibited and censorship was rampant.

Ireland’s accession to the European Economic Community in 1973 brought not just economic growth, but a gradual shift toward a more secular society.

Less than one in five Dublin Catholics now attend mass on a given Sunday, with the figure even lower among young people.

However, change has been a painfully slow process, with each move toward a more free society met with vociferous opposition from the Church and its devotees.     

The ban on the sale of contraceptives was eventually lifted in 1979, with homosexuality finally decriminalised in 1993, largely as a result of the efforts of Senator David Norris.

The constitutional ban on divorce was only repealed as recently as 1995, but the absolute ban on abortion has remained.

The landmark X case of 1992 appeared to finally bring matters to a head. The case involved a 14-year old rape victim, who wished to travel to England to undergo a termination and was prevented from doing so. The State was in effect, attempting to force a minor to bear the child of a rapist.

The Supreme Court found in the girl’s favour, the ruling gave Irish women the right to travel abroad, in order to undergo a termination. In reality the Supreme Court had merely adopted an attitude of out of sight, out of mind.

Abortions will always take place, whether the pregnancy is a result of sexual violence, poses a risk to the life of the mother or is merely unplanned.

As the late, great Nuala O'Faolain wrote “In a perfect world there would be no abortion, but we don’t live in a perfect world so what do we do?”

For too long the answer was nothing, with successive governments refusing to address the issue. Meanwhile, thousands of Irish women continue to make the journey across the Irish Sea each year, in order to undergo terminations.

It took the death of Indian woman Savita Halappanavar last year to finally force the State to act.

Ms Halappanavar was repeatedly refused a termination, despite the fact that the foetus was not viable, being informed by a midwife that “Ireland was a Catholic country” by way of explanation.

Savita subsequently contracted septicaemia, being admitted to intensive care at University Hospital Galway, where she later died. Her death attracted worldwide condemnation and was deeply damaging to the country’s image abroad.

Predictably the Church strongly opposes the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, arguing the State is under no obligation to finally legislate for the X case. On the contrary it argues the legislation amounts to the “deliberate and intentional killing of an unborn child”.

The very notion that a group, consisting entirely of men who practice celibacy; can have any comprehension of the stark choices many pregnant women face is absurd.

Yet we continue to be offered moral guidance from an unelected organisation, whose members carried out widespread sexual abuse of children, which its leaders then attempted to conceal.

Far from going too far, the legislation marks an important step toward giving Irish women complete jurisdiction over their bodies.

Should the proposed legislation be ratified by the Dáil, it will mark another small step on Ireland’s journey toward a more just society and we should all “thank God” for that.

Sinéad Makk is pro-life. Read her argument here.

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