The Irish government led by Éamon de Valera of the Fianna Fáil party passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1935. The Act translated the Catholic Church’s doctrine regarding contraception into the law of the land. The sale of contraceptives in Ireland was legal up until the passing of the Act. The law, with some alterations in 1979, remained in place for fifty years.
Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical (Casti connubii) in 1930. The encyclical prohibited people of the Roman Catholic faith from using any form of artificial birth control. The Irish Government made it illegal to import or sell contraceptives in Ireland when it passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1935. Section 17 (I) of the act stated: ‘It shall not be lawful for any person to sell, or expose, offer, advertise, or keep for sale or to import or attempt to import into Saorstát Eireann for sale, any contraceptive’.
In later years attempts were made to liberalise the law on contraception but without success. There were several protests, the most famous of which occurred on May 22nd 1971. On that occasion a group of 49 women took the train to Belfast. They purchased contraceptives and when they returned to Dublin refused to hand them over to the authorities. The event generated a lot of controversy and publicity.
A decision was made by the Supreme Court in 1973 that married couples were entitled to privacy under the constitution and as such could import contraceptives for personal use. This meant a change in the legislation was necessary. After several failed attempts the law was eventually changed when The Health (Family Planning) Act of 1979 became law. Under the new legislation contraceptives were made available on prescription from a doctor for bona fide family planning purposes. Six years later the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Act 1985 allowed for the sale of contraceptives without a prescription to people aged 18 and over.
The Irish Supreme Court decided that a ban on contraceptives was unconstitutional in the year 1973 On This Day.