Women of Ireland have rolled over for long enough: The 8th and the long walk to abortion rights
Three years after the fateful day, film directors Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle bring to the screen The 8th, a documentary that follows Ireland’s journey to successfully repealing the eighth amendment (passed in 1983, which asserted the equal right to life of a pregnant woman and an unborn child), and legalising abortion. To some outside Ireland, this may seem like an isolated event that simply allowed safe abortion – it’s legal in so many other countries, so whats the big deal? – but 25th May 2018 didn’t just mark a referendum, it marked a monumental change in Ireland’s relationship with women.
The atrocities of Ireland’s past are no secret. Examples of endless cruelty include the Magdalene Laundries, where unmarried pregnant women were subjected to slavery and torture, their babies taken from them and sold to affluent Americans by the Catholic Church. The conversation around this subject has been opened again in recent years with the discovery of a septic tank in Tuam, County Galway that hid the corpses of babies and young children born into mother and baby homes run by the Bon Secours order of nuns, and the subsequent investigation led by historian Catherine Corless. The political event of 2018 marked the decision by Ireland to finally reject its former self and accept that change is needed.
This documentary primarily follows Ailbhe Smyth, head of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, and Andrea Horan, owner of the popular Dublin nail salon Tropical Popical, who admits she was never politically minded in her youth, but that changed in 2017. It’s a brilliant idea to provide the perspective of two women who think differently, with contrasting ages and lifestyles, but who are united in their commitment to women’s rights. The narrative looks back to 1983, when the amendment was implemented, and the turmoil it inflicted on the people of the country. An old debate featured shows now president of Ireland Michael D Higgins acknowledging the danger of not defining what “unborn” actually means, saying, “The failure to define it poses threats to the lives of women and means of contraceptives”. Many people ignored the danger the amendment represented for women until it was too late.
Much of the public debate around the eighth began again in the 2010s due to the death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied an abortion in a Galway Hospital, despite the foetus having no chances of living. This decision by doctors resulted in the young woman contracting sepsis and dying from the infection. Savita’s death demonstrated Ireland’s failure to protect its women and their right to healthcare and safety because of an archaic amendment.
I tuned into a Q&A with director Kane and the documentary’s activists Ailbhe and Andrea, who discussed the production, their memories of the lead up to the campaign, the recent US case that challenges the legality of abortions performed after 15 weeks, and the fight for abortion rights in Poland. When asked how the film affected her national identity, Irish ex-pat Kane recalls returning to New York after the Yes win in Ireland: “For the first time I actually feel like a full citizen of my own country.” She also recalls her “lowest moment” of the filmmaking process, meeting Catherine Corless on the gravesites in Tuam: “That was a moment where I was like ‘I am going back to New York and I am never coming back’ – so thankfully it came full circle.”
In discussing films it’s easy to throw around the word “important”, which is an umbrella term for anything that discusses current issues, not really giving any thought to the actual weight of the word. But this is undoubtedly an important film. The 8th does not try to portray Ireland as a utopia because of the success of the referendum. It documents the relationship between shame and pride, unearthing how monumental a win like this was because of the utter horrors that came before it. But, ultimately, it’s a celebration of the people of Ireland, who decided to change their country’s path by coming together to say Yes.
The 8th is released on VOD on the 25th of May 2021. For further information visit here.
Watch a trailer for The 8th here: