In 1983 a monumental shift in Irish legislation was introduced which was to have a profound effect on the rights of women across the country. A reactionary measure in part to the Roe v Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court and a growing chorus of feminist voices refusing to follow the devout vision of the church, the 8th amendment to the constitution of Ireland forced up another road block to female bodily autonomy.
The 8th, a searing and passionate documentary from filmmakers Lucy Kennedy, Aideen Kane and Maeve O Boyle, charts the struggle the Yes campaign faced and the rising tide of the pro-choice movement in the years and months leading up to the landmark vote. It also shines a light on the decades of misogynistic abuse and failings of a state too intertwined with the Catholic Church to offer any meaningful protections to its citizens when their voices were ones of dissent rather than blind compliance.
Opting for a mix of interviews with key figures on both sides of the narrative and archival footage of seasoned feminist campaigner Ailbhe Smyth as she battles fearlessly to empower her colleagues and spread their message, The 8th takes us on a journey as the Yes team hit the streets to make their voices heard and plan strategy meetings to counter the campaign being run by the No vote. It’s rousing and articulate and intelligent while never shying away from the stories of heartbreak that got us to this tipping point in the first place.
Gut-wrenching testimony from Savita Halappanavar’s husband Praveen interspersed with medical opinion of how her death was entirely preventable is as impactful onscreen now as it was a galvanising moment of the movement to change the law that allowed this tragedy. Details of the nations reaction to the X case in 1992, the unspeakable horrors of Mother and Baby homes, the trafficking of children away from unmarried women. These stories resonate today and if they are the Church’s forced confession then the penance is still high.
Make no mistake that The 8th comes down on one side of the argument only. While both aspects of the divisive topic are wrung out, sometimes fiercely so, there’s no denying that the filmmakers see the eventual successful repeal as a triumph and in the sense that it was overwhelmingly voted in by the citizens of this country it is exactly that.
Released on the third anniversary of the historic vote, The 8th is a brilliant, cathartic documentary capturing a moment in Irish history, a moment decades in the making and that will have a lasting impact for decades to come. Quietly powerful, necessary filmmaking and essential viewing.