Phoebe Moore rejoices in the triumphant referendum campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment and change Ireland’s abortion laws after a 35-year long struggle.
“It has been opened”. A phrase can cover many things and a multitude of sins: a chamber holding a large basilisk snake which will soon wreak havoc on a school of witchcraft and, perhaps most fittingly, a vitriolic debate centring, ultimately, on the value a society places on its women. Like most openings of importance, these can be hard to close again. Cue the iconic and brave figures that played a fundamental role in making sure this lid was not closed on women’s reproductive rights. Directors Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle, the three women behind The 8th, capture in startling breadth the tireless and monumental campaign fought to repeal the controversial amendment tied to a deceivingly innocuous number.
Most impressive about this film is its attention to cinematic detail. The visual capturing of a period which is largely remembered through its words coming from all sides, at once loud and clear, oppressive and inspiring, frightening and empowering. Cinematographer Matt Leigh poignantly articulates what clamorous language can obscure. A painted-over heart on the side of a blue wall leaves a telling half-heart for what was anything but a half-hearted fight; resolutely vibrant fake nails in a salon that firmly puts the ‘feminine into feminism’; a high stone wall laced with vines owned by an all-powerful institution and a white trainer tracing a dip in the ground, adds breath-taking relevance to Ailbhe Smyth’s layered comment, “we bury things we can’t face”.
Smyth, head of the coalition to repeal the 8th amendment, has an equally large presence in this documentary serving as an energetic reminder that age is irrelevant in activism. Despite prejudicial branding as a ‘young person’s movement’ complete with the accompanying cool hair dyes, nose piercings and ‘hipsterdom’, this documentary successfully captures the realities of its diversity: Together for yes in all its colours, ages, genders and sexualities.
There are two sides to every story, however, and a nuance to every argument. The 8th is no stranger to this. We see the stark realities of the aptly named ‘battleground’ and the no-less impressive fight waged by those on the other side of the coin. Wendy Grace of Spirit Radio is given ‘air-time’ mixing swirls of grey to an argument easily mistaken as a black/white pro-choice vs religious zealots. The realities of a culture that has not adapted to working women and the prohibitive costs of childcare that reflect this are Grace’s coup de grâce just as the camera cuts to posters delivering the stark message of “stop policing my body”: another example of ‘choice’ by editor Maeve O’Boyle suggesting that this may be an issue pertinent to both debates.
The 8th opens with a plane taking into the skies and it closes with a final, humbling message that the vote was “66 % to 34% in favour of repeal, a margin of 2 to 1” and, the clincher, “the same margin that approved the 8th amendment thirty-five years earlier.” Two succinct bookends for a 35-year history that this film encapsulates so well. Released three years after the movement’s victory, its relevance is anything but stale. With current debates around the ownership of a maternity hospital and the ominous tolling of a church bell within earshot, we are reminded that wealth before health is not just a thing of the past.
The 8th is released on video on demand in the UK and Ireland on 25th May 2021