Scene from The 8th Scene from The 8th

The 8th is a moving and powerful film showing how mass activism is the route to achieving change, argues Lucy Nichols

The 8th (2020), by Irish filmmaker Aideen Kane, is an immensely powerful documentary that follows three decades of the battle for abortion rights in Ireland. It explores the grassroots campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote in the 2018 referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution passed in 1983. Abortion had been illegal in Ireland since 1863, but the 8th Amendment hardened the bar on abortion under any circumstances, criminalising the termination of a pregnancy and a woman’s fundamental right to decide whether or not she wants to have a child.

The documentary is a moving one, as it highlights the very real consequences of the criminalisation of abortion, pointing to the case of Savita Halappanavar, who tragically died from complications to her pregnancy after being denied an abortion, despite being told her baby would likely never survive birth.

It also reviews the tragic history of mother-and-baby homes in Ireland, including the mass grave at the Tuam mother-and-baby home in County Galway. We hear directly from the many Irish women who have had to travel to England to access abortions, or who have had unsafe and unregulated abortions in Ireland.

The 8th is a well-thought-out criticism of the sexism prevalent in the Irish establishment, although it allows the audience to come to its own conclusions about the arguments often made against a woman’s right to an abortion. It examines the (both Protestant and Catholic) churches’ involvement in the campaign against abortion in a somewhat passive manner, interviewing key pro-life campaigners, without passing judgement on the stringent religious beliefs that have shaped their views on the issue of abortion.

A movement for fundamental rights

Kane is masterful at approaching this incredibly sensitive subject in a sympathetic manner, and reminds the audience throughout the documentary that the battle to repeal the 8th Amendment was not a battle of religions, creeds, or traditions, but a battle for the fundamental right of a woman to control what goes on in her own body.

We are shown how it was women (and men) from all walks of life who were active in the campaign for abortion rights in Ireland, from veteran activist Ailbhe Smyth to beauty-shop owner, Andrea Horan, and women from all backgrounds who will have had their lives radically changed by the outcome of the 2018 referendum.

More than anything, this documentary is proof that collective action can bring about radical change, and that mass mobilisation is the only real way to achieve meaningful change, not just for women, but for society as a whole.

The 8th is in cinemas around Ireland and the UK now and will feature at the Irish Film Festival in London at the end of November.

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