Tag Archives: william binchy

90098985Professor William Binchy (top) and Justice Adrian Hardiman (above)


From March 1992, a piece written by Adrian Hardiman SC (Supreme Court Judge since 2000) in the Sunday Independent on the X case and Pro Life Campaign legal advisor William Binchy.

Anti-abortion extremists are demanding a further referendum to turn the clock back in a drastic way. Their position is both obscurantist and less than honest.

The first thing to be said about this group is that their legal thinking is demonstrably unreliable. They were warned in 1983 that the wording of the amendment was, in the words of the then Attorney General, “ambiguous and unsatisfactory”. They insisted that it was perfect. They now wish to change it again.

They were expressly warned, by this writer amongst others, that the amendment could be used to prevent women from travelling. They scoffed at the idea or pretended to do so, and called it scaremongering. This is precisely what happened and (without the amended protocol) what could happen again.

In recent weeks this group has loudly proclaimed that it does not wish to interfere with the right to travel. If this is true, it is a death-bed conversion. It was not apparently their view a few months ago when the original protocol was negotiated.

Worse still there is ample evidence that this group positively envisaged the use of penal sanctions, including imprisonment, against Irish women who had abortions abroad. In 1981 Professor-elect William Binchy wrote the first article I am aware of suggesting a referendum on abortion. If passed, he foresaw that injunctions could be granted to restrain a pregnant woman from travelling abroad for an abortion.

He continued “. . . if the consequences of defying an injunction were made absolutely clear to the defendant, this might (have some effect. These consequences are indeed awesome. The defendant would be in contempt of court — for which commital to prison is the penalty: moreover an action for damages would also lie for ‘destruction of the child’s constitutional right to life: One must be realistic here. A woman threatened with such sanctions (could well decide to stay in England after her abortion rather than come back to prison in Ireland’ (emphasis added). (Binchy: Ethical issues in Reproductive Medicine: A legal perspective”) published by Gill and Macmillan 1982.

In the same article the Professor-elect declared that-the “simple legal solution” might be to make it a criminal offence to have an abortion anywhere in the world.

He said “for our legislation now to provide that it should be illegal to have an abortion abroad would therefore not be changing what since 1861 has been the intended effect of our abortion law: on the contrary it would do no more than restore the position in light of legislative developments elsewhere over which we have no control”.

He continued by asking whom precisely the law would cover. Answering his own question he said, “Obviously it should not extend, for, example, to an English woman residing in England who had a perfectly legal abortion there. If she came to Ireland for a visit some time later, she should scarcely be hauled off to Mountjoy for what she had done.

“It would seem that the law should be limited to persons with a close connection with Ireland at the time of the commission of the offence. Such persons could include those who are habitually resident here or, more restrictively. Irish nationals who are habitually resident here.”

Via Oireachtas Retort

Previously: And So It Came To Pass

Not So Fast

Just William

“Our Values Are Considerably More Subtle Than You Might Think.”

Senior Moment

He Hasn’t Changed A Day

Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

bincheyWilliam Binchy, legal advisor to the pro-life movement went on Tonight with Vincent Browne .

Certainty in a world gone mad.

Vincent Browne: “Is it your view that a woman if she proceeds with a termination of pregnancy ought to be imprisoned?”

William Binchy: “Of course not. Of course not.”

Browne: “I’m sorry. William, William, just answer that.”

Binchy: “Can I answer the point?”

Browne: “Yes, yes.”

Binchy: “Of course not. And can I invite you to stay in the world of reality and the world of truth because you tagged on there an imprisonment of the woman. You know, Vincent and I think you should remind your viewers of this too that there is no prospect whatsoever of a woman being imprisoned in such circumstances.”

Browne: “How do you know I don’t know? I don’t know that. I don’t know. If it’s the law that she may be imprisoned up to 14 years then it seems to be that at least there is a prospect that that would happen. Are you happy with that?”

Binchy: “Do you think so?”

Browne: “I think there is a prospect. Of course there is.”

Binchy: “All I say is that I disagree with your legal assessment there, Vincent and I think frankly…”

Browne: “Tell me how that is legally mistaken. Tell me how I’m mistaken.”

Binchy: “If you give me an opportunity to speak.”

Browne: “Yeah.”

Binchy: “In the worst case scenario to hypothesise imprisonment is irresponsible to your viewers. Irresponsible.”

Browne: “William, how is it legally mistaken?”

Binchy: “I’ll tell you why because no woman is actually prosecuted. The abortionist is prosecuted in very rare circumstances. That’s the way the law operates.”

Browne: “But the law is that the women, woman can also be prosecuted. That’s the law. So how is what I said legally mistaken?”

Binchy: “Because you have to stay in the world of reality.”

Browne: “So it’s not actually legally mistaken?”

Watch here.

Back in hairier times:


“To assert to the Supreme Court in those circumstances would grant an injunction against a woman going to England is to assert that the Supreme Court is composed of imbeciles.”


 William Binchy, 1983 following the passing of the pro-life amendment, the constitutional ban on abortion.

Previously: And So It Came To Pass

(TV3, RTE)


“It is time for some plain speaking. Everybody knows that the Bill is the product of political expediency (and, for the Labour Party, an important and necessary step on a sure road to wide-ranging abortion). Those who are lawyers know that it is not legally required. Those who are doctors know that it is not medically necessary. And those who are psychiatrists know that it is actually damaging to the welfare of some of their patients.”


TCD Law Professor William Binchy (above) writing in today’s Irish Times says the proposed abortion legislation is not required.

This, despite Professor Binchy being a campaigner for the 8th Amendment in 1983.

The wording of which was described at the time as “a legal time bomb”.

With then attorney general Patrick Connolly correctly predicting that it “might well have the effect of threatening the right of the mother” to have a life-saving operation“.

Binchy refers to Dr Rhona Mahony as “Dr Rhona O’Mahony”, a minor faux pas but indicative of the importance of fact checking.

It’s time we had some plain speaking on abortion Bill (William Binchy, Irish Times)

Abortion referendum wording was seen as ‘time bomb’ (Joe Humphreys, Irish Times)

Previously: And So It Came To Pass

What Rhona Said

(Wanderley Massafelli /Photocall Ireland, YouTube)

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 14.20.40

Mary Robinson on ‘Today Tonight’ with John Bowman debating Professor William Binchy after the passing of the ‘pro-life’ Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983.

Takes off at  04:05.

John Bowman: “Might there be test cases on this though, do you think?”

William Binchy: “Certainly, all I can say on this issue is that em..I think it’s fair to say that the past six months the spectre of women’s life being at risk by reason of test cases being taken to the court. This has been raised and I’m glad to say that the people having considered that particular argument have manifestly rejected it by their vote today.”

Bowman: “Mary Robinson…?”

Binchy: “May I say on that the courts are open to everybody. Mary if you recall took a case on behalf of a client against the holding of this referendum and the result was she lost that case as the court considered the issues involved. Similarly in the area of women’s health where if some crackpot were to take a case in this particular area the court would dispose of the case with no difficulty whatsoever.”

Bowman: “Mary Robinson, do you think there will be test cases?”

Mary Robinson: “I must say I don’t like the use of words like crackpot we’re talking about very serious issues and I, together with a lot of lawyers, the majority of lawyers in this country raised the serious difficulties that are implicit in the ambiguous and complex wording in this amendment. Yes, the people went out and voted yesterday and we counted the votes today but what we’re faced with now is a legal section in the constitution and all I can do conscientiously and fairly and honestly as a lawyer is try to assess the implications of it. It is very ambiguous. Even the concept of the word unborn is not known to lawyers therefore, it must be determined. The effect on contraception in this country is I think, worrying a lot of people and I can understand that worry.”

Bowman: “Do you think there might be test cases on that?”

Mary Robinson:
“I think that if certain types of contraceptive devices which are available at the moment are…the IUD, em…ah..em..certain types of pill are no longer legally available in the country and there’s some doubt and I think serious doubt about the IUD even under its present status. If that is affected and it certainly could potentially be by the wording of this amendment and either civil action is taken or criminal prosecution is brought then of course it will be tested before the courts. The courts in this country.”

Bowman: “If it went to the Supreme court, couldn’t it be that the Supreme Court in examining the issue would take into account the intention of the electorate which is fairly clear and the intention of those who in the legislature putting it forward?”

Robinson: “No. The Supreme Court would be concerned about the text of the wording, and the construing of that, merely the text of the wording and construing that text. The words are not easy to construe. Anyone who says facilely, em, in the course of the referendum campaign it’s absolutely clear…”

Bowman: “John Kelly said it would be absurd for the Supreme Court to think it could have any difficulty in constructing that.”

Robinson: “Well the first problem the Supreme Court could be faced with is em.. is the problem of defining when the life of the unborn begins. Is it at the time of fertilisation? If that is so, do certain types of certain contraceptives, the IUD for example prevent implantation that would be now regarded as an interference with what we know as a constitutional right to life of the fertilized ovum….”

Bowman: “William Binchy?”

Robinson: “That would have very substantial implications.”

Binchy: “I think we get put the discussion into perspective. The amendment that was passed substantially by the people today was an amendment to protect the unborn against abortion. The amendment does this…”

Robinson: “That is only your construction…”

Binchy: “Sorry, Mary. Hold on one second. The amendment does this and the amendment ensures for instance, that our law will be protected against the possibility of a strong pressure being brought in this country as a result of a European decision which would be pro-abortion. I must say in this context that Mary has objected to the amendment precisely on the ground that we would be bad Europeans in failing to comply with a European decision from the European court in favour of abortion. I would say in this particular context that the issue of the human rights of the unborn against abortion is of such a nature that we should make up our own mind on this matter and not particularly worry in this context whether a European court would favour liberal abortion or not.”

Bowman: “After the debate on the referendum and so on, another of the issues which you go into great detail, theoretically admittedly in this chapter in this particular book is whether for instance women who now leave the country at the rate of ten a day should be prosecuted for having abortions abroad? You theoretically examine that in great, great detail…”

Binchy: “This is true, John. Of course, I examine it in the context of the previous existing law prior to the passing of the amendment. I should say in this context, you mention Professor John Kelly, the foremost constitutional lawyer in this country and used perhaps an indelicate expression to describe that particular kind of argument which I actually said on last Saturday’s radio programme was to assert to the Supreme Court in those circumstances would grant an injunction against a woman going to England was to assert that the Supreme Court was composed of imbeciles.”

Good times.