The 8th, a superb documentary, now screening at the Athena Film Festival, catalogues up close the last year of the Irish Republic’s Women’s Movement working to repeal The 8th amendment to their constitution. It is a superb historical capsule of how women activists and women’s right’s leaders in the Irish Republic diligently fought for and won against the Catholic Church, religious groups and politicians who attempted to hold on to the amendment that they passed in 1983.
The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1983 was an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland which inserted a subsection recognizing the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn. As a result the 8th banned abortions, the abortion pill and forms of contraception. It abrogated a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. It did not give her access to reproductive healthcare if it involved terminating a pregnancy. Unborn fetuses had the same right to life as women, though there is Biblical scripture that is against this.***
Directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle with interviews and cinema verite style on the ground, in the moment cinematography we understand so much about the repeal the 8th movement. We are there with the marches and moments of doubt, concern and angst. And we understand the great good will and joie de vivre of women and men in 2017-2018 who dug deep to do their part to overturn one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the world. The film identifies how the uplifting struggle unified the Irish Republic like no other cause before it. Eschewing former tactics that remained unproductive, and employing the ideas of care and compassion, activists sifted through 35 years of onerous, oppressive experiences mothers faced under the 8th and spotlighted them to the populace.
One of the essential fallacies that the Catholic Church, politicians and women’s groups who supported them used to terrorize the populace in the past using Christianity’s 10 commandments to cover for the raw power and control of politicians and the Church, was the unborn fetus. An unborn fetus under twelve weeks cannot be sustained outside the women’s body. So it was exploited and used as a weapon for political and religious power. Those who supported the 8th proclaimed that a fetus was a whole human being with the same rights as the adult woman who carried it. The fetuses were lifted up as equal to women, an abject lie that is not Biblical.
The law in effect asserted that if a woman could get pregnant at child- bearing ages they had no rights above those of a fetus. In other words, they were equivalent. There were a few exceptions, for example the risk of the life of the mother and child. But if the child’s heart beat was found, there could be no abortion, even if the mother was dying, or the child contributed to the mother dying. A woman having the same rights as fetuses, means there is no choice. Woman and fetus are one and the same. The law removed a woman’s right to think for herself and reduced her to silence under the Republic of Ireland.
The concept is preposterous and defies reality which indicates it is a power grab and uses the irrational and emotional to remove any logical debate. The vote which allowed the Church, government and hooked in women’s groups to reduce women to the unborn, was passed by 66% of the population in 1983. Paternalism and the oppression of women had reached an all time high under this law, making fetuses and women subjects of the state, a blasphemy to God and Christianity in removing women’s freedoms and in effect self-determination of their souls.
Ironically, the Church was under its own siege as babies bodies were unearthed in the septic tanks of a mother/child home and the abuses of the Madeline Laundries were shown on film. Then the massive pederasty and abuse sandal of clerics abuses boys for decades pointed up the hypocrisy of the Church. Who were they to legislate for women when they themselves were abusive, hyper-wicked and dangerous to their own parishioners?
That they were guilty of abusing women with this law as they had been abusing men and women for decades helped to change the populace’s opinions about the Church. This cruel and unusual punishment of not giving women access to reproductive healthcare was petitioned against countless times by women activists. Even the UN in recent years declared women not being given the right to healthcare and a legal abortion was egregious discrimination against women and a human rights violation.
Filmmakers highlight the negative impact of the harsh laws of the 8th with clips of marches and activism. Thousands of women ended up going to the UK for their healthcare and abortions yearly. In one instance of rape a 14-year-old was prevented from going to the UK. She was suicidal. The rape was familial and she threatened to kill herself. Finally, the High Court allowed it. But by the time she arrived, she was under such duress she had a miscarriage. Women’s groups were outraged and petitioned for changes but the main law held.
In another case, a pregnant Indian mother Savita Halappanavar who was ill with sepsis asked for an abortion. But because there was a heart beat, she died of sepsis. The doctor was afraid of an jail sentence, so rather than to act and give her the abortion she asked for, he waited and she died. Filmmakers highlight the marches around Savita’s death and the injustices in such cases.
But the most vital parts of the film follow specific activists, self-described glitter-activist Andrea Horan. She and others worked hard to get out the vote going door to door. Horan had a sign painted on the wall of her shop. Filmmakers have clips of her talking to women about the issues like allowing abortions of fetuses with severe debilities as they die of these issues in the womb.
Importantly, filmmakers also highlight and shadow the wonderfully vibrant and energetic academic Ailbhe Smyth who has been at the forefront of the Women’s Liberation Movement during each feminist wave starting in the 1970s. She is the equivalent of the U.S. Gloria Steinem having worked tirelessly for women and Women’s Rights in the Irish Republic. She founded and spearheaded so many groups it makes one’s head spin. This, including establishing a Women’s Studies program in U.C.D. (University College Dublin)
In the last months working to repeal the 8th, Ailbhe Smyth is the key leader that others look to. Filmmakers reveal her sense of humor, her inner strength, her openness and authenticity, her driving hard work to win the votes. One can’t help but fall in love with her. She with the help of collaborators who felt that this campaign to repeat the 8th most importantly was a campaign of compassion and concern for women’s reproductive healthcare. To stop the thousands yearly going to the U.K. for abortions, if the law was repealed, they would have access in their own country. Interestingly, that the Republic of Ireland allowed itself to be shamed and judged by the U.K., really is beyond the pale.
Filmmakers also interview those who vote for keeping the 8th. The arguments against the repeal are thin. And in the case of one journalist, she hangs her “no” vote on the example of her friend getting an abortion and regretting it. Of course, the instances where women are driven to extreme action to travel spending time, money and effort because the government doesn’t think they deserve the right to choose another path are ignored and overlooked. The religious argument and pictures of fetuses are used; filmmakers didn’t gratuitously include these. However, in the hearts of some, the life of the unborn is even more worthy to fight for than an adult woman with a formed mind and soul that clerics deem wicked.
As the countdown to the day of the vote arrives after the debates, filmmakers do a superb job of transferring the excitement and jubilation. Indeed, it is palpable. Ailbhe Smyth and others are joyously expectant and the moment of historic change is real. There is no going back, ever. The Republic of Ireland entered the 21st century and this was like the shot heard round the world. The Republican Party of the U.S. is on notice, despite its conservative court.
The law was signed by the President of Ireland on 20 December 2018, after being approved by both Houses of the Oirechtas, legalizing abortion in Ireland. Abortion services began 1 January 2019.
In a quote that says it all an activist said, “We will end what has been described as an English solution to an Irish problem’. Our women will no longer need to travel abroad to access abortions, and we will no longer need to import abortion pills illegally and without access to medical care or support.
Look for The 8th online or screening at the Athena Film Festival. It is a jubilation and must-see.