How Amy Dunne’s bravery helped change Ireland’s abortion law

By Niamh McDonald, Chairperson, Dublin Bay North ‘Together For Yes’ 

‘Repeal Changed My Life’

Portrait photograph of Amy Dunne. No background other than a blue sky. A confident, proud expression on her face.
Amy Dunne in 2019. Amy was ‘Miss D’ in the landmark ‘right to travel’ High Court abortion case of 2007. Pic: Arthur Carron

Ireland’s long journey from being a country with strict anti-abortion laws to the success of the Repeal movement was not a gradual one.  Rather, after years when there was no movement on the issue, the country would gain a much deeper national understanding of why women should have right to choose from particular cases.

The awful situation that a fourteen-year-old girl – Miss X – found herself in, having been raped and made pregnant in 1992 shook the country. Not only was she refused an abortion in Ireland, but the Irish courts initially refused to let her travel to England for an abortion. Only after a massive outcry and a march of over 10,000 people did the Supreme Court rule that abortion was legal if the woman’s life was at risk.

Students from 1992 sitting in the road in the Dail, behind a banner saying 'Abortion Information Now'. A highlighted square and arrow draws attention to where the image has been altered to cover up a phone number.
In 1992, newspapers didn’t even dare reproduce phone numbers of abortion information services. This, taken by Eric Luke, was doctored to remove the number before being published in the Irish Times.

Another such case was that of Miss D, who we now know as Amy Dunne. Last week, Amy told her story to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke. Unlike the X case, Amy wanted a baby but discovered in 2007, on her seventeenth birthday, that the baby had anencephaly. Her choice was to have an abortion, but because Amy was in temporary foster care, social workers were involved and the told her that she – along with anyone who travelled with her ­­– would ‘be done for murder’.

Amy refused to back down and took her case as far as the High Court in order obtain the right to travel to the UK (and her passport, which was being withheld from her).

In Liverpool, after induced labour, her baby, Jasmine, died. The experience has left her haunted. As Amy put it, ‘I would have lived with the regret of having an abortion but now that’s not what I have, I have a baby I carried, I have a connection, I have a grave, I’ve had a funeral. I have pictures, I have a child, I have memories. I have newspaper clippings.

‘I am forever haunted instead of just being able to go and do what I needed to do.’

The retelling of such a traumatic experience in public while trying to live with its consequences every day is a huge act of bravery and this bravery highlights the sheer cruelty of the actions of anti-choice bigots who still continue to bully pregnant people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Repealing the 8th was a huge achievement, one that was delivered thanks to the grassroots organisation of thousands of  women across the state. But the legislation is too narrow and restricted. People are still travelling for abortion healthcare, the lack of flexibility in the law means some migrants and people in Direct Provision are left without care.

We urgently need legislation for exclusion zones, a demand that Amy Dunne spoke in favour of. She said that seeing protests at hospitals made a difficult situation worse for a woman who has a hard choice to make, ‘I don’t think anyone should be allowed protest outside a hospital. Pro-life people should be ashamed of themselves. I think it’s sick – I think they have a mental illness. We all make decisions and they’re not made lightly.’

Fine Gael were happy to ride the Liberal repeal wave that was created by the hard work of grassroots activism but now when women and pregnant people need support these are sadly lacking

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