The 8th (2020)

The 8th
Director: Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, Maeve O’Boyle
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 10.12.2020

Content Note: abortion

Ireland was long known for having the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. But after 35 years of near constant organizing, the campaigns against those laws were finally successful. In a 2018 referendum the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution was overturned.

The 8th is a nice documentary, showing us how much hard work went into the campaign and how long people fought for their rights, and fortunately was also able to give us the happy end in the success of 2018. It’s a satisfying ode to activism.

The film poster showing a group of protester above a large figure 8.

Abortion is of course a hotly contested topic in the world and a staple issue for feminists everywhere. But ever since the 80s, whent he 8th amendment was included in the Irish constitution, things have been particularly bad for pregnant people in Ireland. That amendment formulated equal rights for the unborn and the parent carrying it, but ultimately meaning that the unborn’s life took precedence over the parent’s life.

This was not only catastrophic for feminists everywhere on an ethical level, it meant that people died because problematic pregnancies could not be terminated – people like Savita Halappanavar whose face and story became a huge part of the campaign that activists mounted before the 2018 referendum.

A woman at a protest, holding up a megaphone.

That doesn’t mean that activism started then – feminists had been protesting the amendment ever since it was signed. Among them Ailbhe Smyth, who was still one of the leading organizers in 2018 and one of the focal points of the documentary. The documentary tracks not only the sheer size of the mobilization of that campaign, but also the changes in communication strategy they resorted to – away from insisting on the rights of anybody to get an abortion for whatever reason to a perspective that is more focused on the dire situations that people find themselves in if they are denied medical care like abortions.

We also get a glimpse of the counterpoints against abortion, but the film doesn’t spend too much time with them – just enough to give you a glimpse of what they were up against and how secure the against side was of winning the referendum.

We see here that activism can and does work – even if it can take many decades to undo something. Let’s keep on organizing!

A mural of Savita Halappanavar surrounded by lots of messages on paper.

Summarizing: well done.


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