‘The 8th’ depicts Ireland’s campaign to remove the 8th Amendment, which was a constitutional ban on abortion. It highlights both sides of the debate while focussing on the dynamic and determined female leaders of the pro-choice campaign.
This new incisive and emotional documentary opens with the perspective of those who want to maintain the 8th amendment, as shouts for its repeal provide a backdrop. We see footage from the 1980s and the debates that led to the 8th amendment, which was also a bitter and fraught campaign. The influence of Catholicism on the amendment is made clear. Fast forward to the present day and we hear from those women who rallied up one another to care about the issues at hand and take action.
We see headlines covering some horrific cases, including the death of Savita Halappanavar. We see the marches, costumed rallies, and the amount of organisation that goes into them, most notably the large number of young women who took to the street. ‘The 8th’ is fair in its depiction too, showing the nuances of those who support the “no” side, aware that the key here is to have sharp, interesting interview subjects with personal stories to share. Among the personalities are a quirky hairdresser named Andrea Horan; Ailbhe Smyth, a campaign leader whose advocating for the issue goes way back; and a bright and sympathetic radio presenter, Wendy Grace, whose pro-life stance runs deeply personal.
It is a shame and disheartening to see when either side turns aggressive, and of course anyone who was there knows how distressed and emotionally loaded the campaign was. As the shocking and heart-breaking Tuam case comes to light in the film’s final act, the message of an ultimate need for change rings true.
‘The 8th’ could have so easily taken a subjective stance, given the end result of the campaign, but it is well balanced and refined throughout. It examines the subject matter from every complicated and weighty angle. It is an extremely impressive production from directors Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle, and provides a moving, comprehensive, and fascinating look into a great historical moment for Ireland.