The IWLM was founded in 1970 and was the first group of Irish women to comment on government contraceptive laws, adopting not only the state but also the Catholic hierarchy. While the waterfall was supported by some, others were more critical. The next day, the Bishop of Clonfert, the Rev. Thomas Ryan, at Mass at Knock Shrine in County Mayo, said that “probably never before, certainly not since the time of punishment, has the Catholic heritage of our country been subjected to so many treacherous attacks under the pretext of conscience, civil rights and women`s liberation.” According to Ryan, “it was no exaggeration to say that the mass media abused communication in Ireland, providing too easy a platform for those who wanted to attack the Church and destroy our Catholic heritage.” 5 Although the group was confronted by customs officers on their return to Dublin, no arrests were made. This event, known as the “contraceptive train” or “condom train,” highlighted the hypocrisy of Irish contraceptive laws and received widespread media attention.4 Kennedy responded a few days later with other statistics on the side effects of the birth control pill. She pointed to “the four deaths here last year as a direct result of the pill” and the fact that Irish family planning clinics had recently withdrawn two brands of birth control pills they had been supplying for several years due to “negative reports from America.” 130 The thalidomide disaster of the early 1960s was frequently used by the group in discussions of the birth control pill. In its publication Alert: Oral Contraceptive, the IFL highlighted the potential health risks of birth control pills. The publication argued that there were parallels between the birth control pill and the thalidomide drug, suggesting that the birth control pill, like thalidomide, had been insufficiently tested before it was available to women on prescription, and the publication drew attention to reports by American doctors about the dangers of the pill. 131 Mary Kennedy, in a letter to the Irish Times in 1975, referred to the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) report on the birth control pill and also noted that “the FDA was the first to warn against thalidomide-based drugs”. 132 The following year, in another letter, she asked, “Have we so quickly forgotten the children of thalidomide and the tragedy of their lives?” 133 Kennedy further claimed that the birth control pill could have potential long-term effects on the third and fourth generation of chemical contraceptive users, citing the work of German physician Siegfried Ernst, and also noting that “genetic damage has also been noted in the United States.” 134 If groups such as the CAP were able to make contraceptives available, the taxable person would have to pay not only for the provision of the services, but also `pay compensation if the users suffer damage to their health`. 135 The Irish Family League was founded in 1973.
This group strongly opposed the legalisation of contraception, arguing that it would lead to an increase in overcrowding in Ireland, particularly among adolescent girls, and that if contraception were legalised, abortion would soon be legalised. Letters from the public in newspapers and magazines also underscore the controversy of the issue; Many opposed the legalization of contraception on moral and religious grounds. Clearly, the debates surrounding the birth control pill in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s were complex. As in England, the birth control pill has become synonymous with contraception in general and a way for the press to discuss the issue. The fact that some women were able to obtain the contraceptive pill by lying about their menstrual cramps illustrates the significant hypocrisy of the contraceptive ban in Ireland, and the birth control pill was a symbol of class differences in contraceptive access before legalisation. Women who have taken the contraceptive pill have clearly shown a great deal of freedom of choice in accessing it, and the dissemination of knowledge about how and from whom they have access shows the importance of women`s networks in helping women circumvent the law. However, as some reports show, the decision to take the contraceptive pill can sometimes lead to a dilemma regarding the conscience of Catholic women; However, these women often justified taking the contraceptive pill for economic reasons. Finally, it is clear that the birth control pill has become an important symbol of the debate over Irish family planning laws, both for activists for changes to the legislation and for activists opposed. For anti-contraceptive activists such as the Irish Family League, focusing on the pill as an “abortion abort” and discussing its potential side effects helped affirm their position on contraception, but also meant that discussions about contraception could not be separated from discussions about abortion.
For members of the Irish women`s movement, given the potential side effects of the pill and its inadequacy for some women, it is imperative that women have access to a range of contraceptive options.