A documentary on the woman who overturned Ireland's contraception ban is on tonight
“May McGee showed how unloving, how remorseless, how rigid the law was and the disproportionate effect it had on working-class women."
In 1973, a 27-year-old woman and her husband brought a case to the Supreme Court that managed to overturn Ireland's archaic ban on contraception.
May McGee had given birth to four children in Co Dublin over the course of two years. She had had difficult pregnancies and was advised by her doctor that any further conception could be fatal.
The young mother was fitted with a diaphragm and given a prescription for spermicide which, because of Ireland's Catholic Church-led laws on contraception, had to be ordered from the UK.
Such packages, including May's, were often intercepted at Irish customs with the warning that being caught with contraception could lead to a hefty fine or, indeed, jail time.
So, she and her husband Seamus decided to test the country's constitutional ban on contraception - and won.
A documentary on May's landmark case will be broadcast on RTE this evening at 7pm.
The film details the couple's failed High Court case in 1972 as they struggled to gain the right to privacy around their family life, and the eventual win of their Supreme Court hearing the following year.
After ruling that May and her husband should have the right to privacy (and in turn, the right to acquire contraception without the knowledge of the state), it was then up to an extremely conservative government to legislate for the regulation of contraceptives.
The move proved difficult and was met with many obstacles and much opposition, including that of then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, who joined the Fianna Fáil opposition to vote the measure down.
In 1979, Charles Haughey, as Minister for Health, finally passed the first Family Planning Act, calling it an “Irish solution to an Irish problem."
It would take another 15 years before the ban on contraceptives was officially lifted, but May's case actively paved the way for future legislative challenges and ultimately, the fight for women's bodies in Ireland.
Scannal's 'The McGee Case' airs tonight on RTE One at 7pm.