IRELAND – How May McGee won contraception for married couples in 1973

May McGee had four babies in 23 months: then she and her husband took on the State and won contraception for married couples in June 1973

When customs officials seized the spermicidal jelly May McGee had ordered from the UK on the advice of a doctor, she was livid and took action that led to lasting change. Money was tight but much worse, May had experienced several health difficulties with each pregnancy and had suffered a stroke before the birth of her second child. She couldn’t use the pill due to the stroke so the doctor recommended a diaphragm with spermicidal jelly. But before she could order them, she fell pregnant a third time, with twins. When she finally was able to place the order, they were absolutely stunned when the Customs intercepted the letter and advised them they might be fined or even jailed.

The doctor at the new Irish Family Planning Association asked if they would be interested in forcing the government’s hand. They agreed. A case was lodged in the High Court arguing that the prohibition on contraception was an infringement on her personal rights and the rights of her family, and therefore unconstitutional… In June 1972 she and her husband gave evidence. She was asked if she thought she ad her husband should live as brother and sister. Her reply was that they were husband and wife. When her husband was asked if he was ok with his wife using contraception, he said better that than placing flowers on her grave. In December of 1973, four of the five judges ruled that contraception was a matter for husband and wife and should be free of interference from the State.

During the interview for the Changemakers article in the Irish Examiner, their granddaughter Aisling was listening. She had written about her grandmother for a university politics project to remind her generation what her grandmother had done.

SOURCE: Irish Examiner, by Clodagh Finn, 13 November 2022