Dr James Loughran obituary: A soft-spoken revolutionary

Founding member of the family planning movement was ‘fearless and totally outspoken about women’s reproductive rights’

Born: July 29th, 1925

Died: May 31st, 2023

Dr James (Jim) Loughran, the Skerries GP who was one of the founding members of the Irish family planning movement in 1968, has died at the age of 97.

Niall Behan, the chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), said that Loughran was “a soft-spoken revolutionary. He was polite but very determined. He was motivated by the poor living conditions of many women in 1960s and 1970s, the layers of poverty and the impact that multiple pregnancies had on their lives.”


As one of the eight founding volunteers of the organisation that preceded the IFPA, Loughran firmly believed that the prohibition of effective family planning was wrong and that the so-called natural method of contraception – which involved women abstaining from sex during the fertile stage of their menstrual cycle and which was permitted by the Catholic Church – was unreliable.

The group, which also included Marie Mullarney, Yvonne Pim, Dr Dermot Hourihane, Dr Michael Solomons, Dr Robert Towers and Dr Joan Wilson, set up Ireland’s first family planning clinic at Dublin’s Merrion Square in 1969. They subsequently opened another clinic at Mountjoy Square in 1971 and later a third clinic in Synge Street.

The organisation became the IFPA in 1973. Yvonne Pim said that Loughran was one of the most courageous GPs of his era. “He was fearless and totally outspoken about women’s reproductive rights.”

The clinics were initially run voluntarily by doctors and nurses. Women were informed about all methods of contraception, even though the pill was the only contraceptive that was legal to prescribe. Other forms of contraception – often brought to Ireland in suitcases by staff who had been visiting Britain and Northern Ireland – were given to women free of charge through funding from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and donations. Women also got contraceptives by mail order from the IPPF.

Loughran was one of the authors of the ground-breaking Family Planning: A Guide for Parents and Prospective Parents, in 1971. The publication sold more than 800 copies in its first month of publication and thousands of copies were distributed over the next five years. In 1976, the Censorship of Publications Board banned the guide, deeming it “indecent and obscene”. It was removed from circulation, but a successful court challenge in 1977 resulted in it becoming available to the public again.

This wasn’t the first time that he was at the centre of a legal challenge. In 1973, his patient May McGee, who lived in a mobile home with her fisherman husband and four children, had complications during her pregnancies. She was advised against having any more children. Loughran fitted her with a diaphragm and she ordered a packet of spermicide by mail order from England, which was intercepted and confiscated by customs.

Loughran and his solicitor encouraged McGee to take a legal action against the State on the grounds that the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1935) – which prohibited the importation of contraceptives – was inconsistent with the 1937 Constitution.

The case was first dismissed by the High Court in 1972, but an appeal to the Supreme Court resulted in a reversal of the High Court judgment in 1973, as recounted in a book, The Supreme Court, by Irish Times editor Ruadhán Mac Cormaic (then legal affairs correspondent). Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik would later say that the decision paved the way for the legalisation of contraceptives in Ireland.

In 2019, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to the founding volunteers of the IFPA, saying “these individuals took the brave step at a time of suffocating conservatism in Ireland”.

Loughran’s son John remembers how his father also spent a night locked up in Pearse Street Garda station, pending investigation for carrying out an illegal abortion. Newspaper articles from 1998 reported that the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute Loughran for the claims that he terminated pregnancies in 1995.

Originally from Dundalk, Co Louth, Loughran grew up the second of three children of businessman John Loughran and Rose (née McKenna). His mother died when he was a teenager and his older sister Anne took on much of the responsibilities of rearing her younger siblings. Loughran won a scholarship to study medicine at University College Dublin, graduating in 1949. After a time working in hospitals in London, he returned to Ireland, first as a locum on Arranmore Island in Donegal and then as a dispensary doctor in Ballina, Co Mayo.

While working in Mayo, he met his wife-to-be, Margaret (Peggy) Glynn. The couple married in 1959 and moved to Skerries, Co Dublin, in 1964 with their two young sons, John and Niall. They went on to have two more sons, Jim and Mark. Loughran established a GP surgery adjoined to the family home, later moving the surgery a few doors down the road.

His involvement in the IFPA led to his surgery being raided by gardaí for contraceptives and, at one point, he was denounced from the pulpit of the Catholic Church in Rush as being “an agent of the devil”, which his son John said resulted in him losing many of his patients overnight.

The Loughran family also took in young unmarried pregnant women to help in the house and live as part of the family – at a time when there was huge stigma attached to being pregnant outside of marriage. With his friends Paddy and Mary Randles, both doctors, Loughran also campaigned for the abolition of corporal punishment.

The Loughran family moved to Sandymount for four years in the late 70s, but Loughran and his wife returned to Skerries, where he resumed practicing as a GP while also running a family planning clinic in Dublin city centre.

In the last 20 years, Loughran and his wife (until her death in 2020) lived in an apartment overlooking the sea in Skerries. Remaining in relatively good health – in spite of a stroke in 2020 – he walked 2km each day until the last few months of his life. He loved all kinds of gadgets and even bought an electric car two years before his death. He also spent a good deal of time writing his memoirs, a task he had almost completed before his death.

James (Jim) Loughran is survived by his sons John and Mark, and his grandchildren, Mary, Áine, Emily and Isabel. He was predeceased by his wife Margaret (Peggy); his sons Niall and Jim; his brother Pat; and sister Anne.