34 years since schoolgirl Ann Lovett died in childbirth
By Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC
DOUGHTY STREET CHAMBERS AND LONDON-IRISH ABORTION RIGHTS CAMPAIGN
Today marks the 34th anniversary of the death of two children: a 15-year-old schoolgirl and her newborn son. On 31 January 1984, Ann Lovett died of a post-partum haemorrhage after giving birth in a grotto in Granard, Co. Longford. She was frightened and lonely and had nowhere to turn. Ann and her son were victims of a culture which shamed women & girls when pregnant “out of wedlock”.
A few days later, on Sunday 5 February 1984, Emily O’Reilly reported the story in theSunday Tribune, following a tip-off from a horrified local. Most people, however, learned of the story the night before, when Gay Byrne was reviewing the Sunday morning papers on the Late Late Show. He read out theSunday Tribune’s headline: ‘Girl, 15, Dies Giving Birth in a Field.’ He then said, “nothing terribly exciting there” and cast the paper to the studio floor.
His dismissive words badly misjudged the national mood. Within days he was inundated with letters from women who decided to speak out. So many letters - “they couldn’t be ignored.” He devoted an episode of his RTÉ radio show to the letters, and the anonymous words of many women and girls who had been pregnant when unmarried, terrified, ashamed. Many had been shunned by their families. Many had given their children up for adoption, feeling they had no choice. The haunting letters were rebroadcast by RTÉ in 2014.
The lonely deaths of Ann Lovett and her baby son in a grotto, underneath a statue of Our Lady, came only four months after the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution was passed following a divisive referendum campaign. I have always seen these two events as being on a continuum, part of the same ugly jigsaw. Finally, this year, 34 years after their deaths, the Irish public have the chance to reject that divisive, dangerous constitutional clause and repeal the 8th.