Leaving out of this the question of travel by pregnant women, and access to abortion information to same, which were decided by referendum in 1992, the 'substantive issue' of abortion from the X-case, particularly the question of the grounds of threatened suicide being used to justify an abortion, was put to the people in two referenda:
This was introduced by Albert Reynolds' government and voted on on the same day as a General Election, with the main government spokesman on the issue being Padraig Flynn the Minister for Justice. The wording they proposed was:
This obviously does rule out the question of suicide but it proposed to enshrine, for the first time in Irish law, the concept that a direct abortion of the unborn could be lawful in certain circumstances. The pro-life side in Ireland was always adament that there were no medical circumstances whereby a direct abortion like this is ever necessary, as opposed to some very rare unfortunate cases where an unborn may indirectly die as a result of some very necessary treatment given to the mother."It shall be unlawful to terminate the life of an unborn unless such termination is necessary to save the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother where there is an illness or disorder of the mother giving rise to a real and substantial risk to her life, not being a risk of self-destruction."
This distinction is very clear if you think about it from the point of view of a doctor or nurse. If you are saying that an abortion per se is what is medically wanted then you go in and administer a lethal injection to the foetus or whatever and induce the abortion, in the other scenario doctors and nurses are not provided with equipment, drugs or procedures whereby they ever intentionally kill the foetus, but unfortunately the foetus may die sometimes when they are working frantically to save the life of the mother, an unfortunate outcome that they cannot prevent.
So at that level the distinction is clear and this wording scandalised many pro-life doctors and nurses and the pro-life campaign in general was united against it for this reason, even though it did address the suicide point in the way they would have liked. All the pro-life groups campaigned heavily against it and Bishop Desmond Connell in Dublin had letters read out at mass giving out about it etc etc. It was defeated then by 65% to 35%.
In March 2002 Bertie Ahern put forward another referendum on this question. This time the wording to be included, and the accompanying legislation which was to be specially linked to the wording in the constitution, was incredibly complicated, too much so to go into in detail here.
The wording is so complicated that its hard to figure out exactly what was going on but it was favoured by quite a lot of people as genuinely closing the door on the suicide issue for example. The problem was that it was so complex and people just didn't trust Bertie Ahern on the matter.
Also one specific issue was the question of whether or not life begins at conception or at implantation of the fertilised egg in the womb. The pro-life, and nearly all Church groups, always went with the former concept whereas this referendum, and the legislation surrounding it and comments by Micháel Martin, the Minister for Health, on the issue at the time, enshrined the idea that the latter was to be the new concept in law. This in the opinion of many on the pro-life side opened the door particularly to drugs that can induce abortion but before the fertilised egg has been implanted, and also to scientific experiments and uses etc of fertilised eggs outside the womb. This was then also a red line which caused many pro-life groups to oppose the referendum.
So in practice the pro-life campaign split straight down the middle for this referendum. It was favoured by people like William Binchy, Des Hanafin and Caroline Simons, and they fronted a Pro-Life Campaign in favour of the referendum, and the Church was also largely in favour or neutral on it. It was opposed by many pro-life groups and personalities including Youth Defence, Mother and Child Campaign, Dana, Alliance for All Life, Christian Socialist Party, Christian Democrats and Human Life International. Here is an example of a pro-life leaflet against the 2002 referendum:
Leaflet from ‘Ireland For Life’ -Vote No -2002 Abortion Referendum | Irish Election Literature and you can read about Youth Defence's opposition to it here: History : 2002 | Youth Defence .
This wording was rejected by 50.42% to 49.58% showing that a united pro-life campaign would certainly have meant that the referendum would have passed.
In any case when you look down through that history you can see that any idea that the Irish people have already rejected the concept of ruling out the X-case judgement by referendum is false, they were never given a clear pro-life wording that they could accept or reject, instead the politicians of the day played all their vote splitting tricks on them to deny them holding any such referendum. The rest of the time since 1992 the pro-life side, if you look at the history of the Pro-Life Campaign or Youth Defence say, were always lobbying political parties to be allowed to put forward a referendum completely shutting the door on the X-case but they were never allowed do so.
That I think is the authentic history.