Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments – re-imagining court decisions

Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments: Judges’ Troubles and the Gendered Politics of Identity, edited by Máiréad Enright, Julie McCandless and Aoife O’Donoghue (Oxford: Hart, 2017) (available here) is the most recent of a series of insightful studies on re-imagining court decisions from feminist perspectives.[1]    The volume includes rewrites and commentaries on 26 cases from Ireland or Northern Ireland, including:

Attorney General v. X, [1992] I.E.S.C. 1, (Supreme Court of Ireland) had decided that an attempt to prevent a 14-year old girl who was pregnant as a result of being raped, from traveling from Ireland to England in order to access abortion care was not justified.  Actual decision online.

In Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments. Ruth Fletcher rewrites the Irish Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the X case.Sheelagh McGuinness writes a commentary on it, explaining the ways in which Fletcher J. illustrates how the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution (acknowledging the “right to life of the unborn… with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother…”) is an instrument of gendered harms.  McGuinness contrasts the “progressive constitutionalism” of Fletcher J.’s reasoning with the “conservative constitutionalism” of the original judgment. Fletcher J. crafts a judgment that considers the text of the Eighth Amendment, examines the evidence of the substantial difference between the contingency of unborn life and the life of the pregnant woman that sustains that life to decide, consistently with the original judgment, that X is entitled to an abortion. She tries to rise above her own partiality by putting herself in X’s shoes to explain how her pregnancy in such circumstances would impose “an impracticable burden on her rightful life.”
ONLINE:  Ruth Fletcher’s imagined decision: working paper version
Sheelagh McGuinness’s commentary: peer review version

McGee v. Attorney General,[1974] I.R. 284 (Supreme Court of Ireland), which had overturned a criminal ban on the importation of contraceptives into Ireland. Actual decision online.

Emilie Cloatre and Máiréad Enright write the commentary on Enright’s rewriting of the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the McGee case, where Enright J. reached the same decision but for different reasons. They explore the ways that Enright J. acknowledged Mrs. McGee’s experiences in trying to access effective contraception to enable her to plan her family in ways that did not seriously risk her life.  Of particular note is the way in which Enright J. elaborated how Mrs. McGee’s right to freedom of conscience was a basis for overturning the importation ban: “There can be no clearer example, in my view, of the exercise of constitutionally protected conscience than Mrs. McGee’s deliberate breach of a provision of the criminal law that imposes a particular set of moral principles on the citizenry.”

[1] Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments-Judges’ Troubles and the Gendered Politics of Identity, ed. Máiréad Enright, Julie McCandless and Aoife O’Donoghue (Oxford: Hart, 2017) (book details).  Other insightful studies on re-imagining court decisions from feminist perspectives  include:  Rewriting Equality (2006) 18(1); R. Hunter, C.McGlynn and E. Rackley (eds.) Feminist Judgments: From Theory to Practice (Oxford: Hart, 2010); H. Douglas, F. Bartlett, T. Luker and R. Hunter (eds.), Australian Feminist Judgments: Righting and Rewriting Law (Oxford: Hart, 2015); K. Stanchi, L. Berger and B. Crawford (eds.), U.S. Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Opinions of the United States Supreme Court (Cambridge: CUP, 2016).

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