OTD 1985: Irish Government defies Catholic Church, votes to allow sale of contraceptives

OTD 1985: Irish Government defies Catholic Church, votes to allow sale of contraceptives

ON FEBRUARY 19, 1985, contraception in Ireland was readily available-- if you were in posession of a medical prescription and were buying from a registered pharmacist.

On 20 February 1985, this was all about to change forever, as the Irish Government voted in favour of allowing the general sale of artifical contraception, including condoms.

For a country which was still very much in the grip of the Catholic Church, a vote such as this was momentous-- for years, pressure on the government by grassroots activists had been building steadily.

In 1971, members of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement had travelled to Northern Ireland to buy contraceptives, where they were legal, and returned to Dublin on the train, where they challenged the custom officers at the station to arrest them.

Contraception was eventually legalised in 1979, but in the narrow, restrictive way that prevailed until the landmark vote of 20 February 1985.

The road to this vote was marred with opposition, warnings from the Catholic Church and even threats of physical violence should politicians vote in favour of relaxing the laws.

On the night before the vote was due to take place, the Dublin archbishop warned that the legislation would send Ireland down a "slippery slope of moral degradation", claiming there would be a rise in abortions and sexually transmitted diseases.

Still, the vote passed by a narrow margin of 83 - 80, and Irish adults over the age of 18 would be allowed to buy condoms and spermicides without a medical prescription.

It would still be several years before these products  would be made available outside of doctor's offices and registered pharmacies, and there remained strict censorship laws preventing the advertisement of contraception.

But this step paved the way for Ireland to begin to shake itself free from the stronghold influence of the Catholic church.

Just 35 years after the landmark vote, Ireland has seen the closure of Magdalene Laundries, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the introduction of civil partnership and same-sex marriage, and yes, even the introduction of abortion services.

Whether this consitutes Ireland's 'moral decay' is a different story.