The generation that takes Durex in the local Spar for granted may not know that 2013 is the 40th anniversary of a legal case that won them the right to use contraception. In 1973, 27-year-old Mary McGee challenged Ireland’s ban on family planning.
A mother of four children, she had complications in her previous pregnancy and was told that having another child would put her life in danger. On medical advice, she ordered spermicidal jelly from England (a criminal offence at the time) but it never arrived because of the amazing vigilance of Irish Customs who seized her package.
“I got a letter to say that because of the prohibition, my package wasn’t allowed in. I couldn’t believe it,” says McGee, sitting in her kitchen at home in Skerries recounting the story. “I just thought ‘no way, I have to do something about this’, not realising the enormity of what I was taking on. I think we were all ready for change though. People wanted children but they also wanted a life.” She took her case to the Supreme Court and won.
Mad to think if she and her husband hadn’t of been brave enough to take the case all the way, how much longer it would have taken to make contraception legal here. Still the 1973 ruling only made it legal for married couples by prescription, it wasn’t until 1983 it was extended to un married people and it was only 1994 condoms became over the counter and eventually in vending machines and shops.
So thank you Mary McGee for fighting for your spermicidal jelly and the right it eventually gave all of us.