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The 8th 6

This doc explores Ireland’s historic, spirited campaign for abortion rights

The 8th traces the country’s 2018 referendum on the Eighth Amendment – here, activist Andrea Horan reflects on the triumphant movement to repeal

Three years ago on this day, the people of Ireland voted to repeal the archaic Eighth Amendment, a 35-year-old ban on abortion that took the lives of many women, and forced many others – ten a day, to be exact – out of the country in search of safe abortion access.

The historic win followed decades of fighting against the draconian law, and a bitterly-fought referendum in 2018, which saw 66 per cent of people vote to overturn the amendment. Supporting the triumphant Repeal campaign, Irish expats flew home to vote, artists made fierce, poignant pro-choice music, while activists remained strong in the face of abuse. People around the world expressed solidarity with women in Ireland, including those in Northern Ireland, whose fight for legal abortion succeeded the following year.

Implemented in 1983, Ireland’s Eighth Amendment placed equal value on the lives of mothers and foetuses, and punished those who procured an abortion with up to 14 years in prison. It was officially repealed in September 2018, before being signed into law in December that year.

Now, a new documentary, titled The 8th, traces the country’s monumental campaign for women’s rights. Directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle, the film follows veteran pro-choice activist and co-director of the Together For Yes campaign Ailbhe Smyth, and Andrea Horan, co-presenter of the Don’t Stop Repealin’ podcast, as they lead grassroots movements to achieve the previously-unachievable.

The film was shot over a three-year period between 2017 and 2019, and offers an in-depth look at the activists’ journey to repeal, as well as the obstacles they faced. Viewers are taken inside urgent campaign meetings, join the frontlines of rousing protests, head to the polling stations with activists, and hear women share their emotional stories of being forced to flee Ireland to access free, safe, and legal abortions. In one of the most joyous moments of the film, a group of women in ‘repeal’ sweatshirts who’ve come home to use their voice are welcomed at the airport by a cheering crowd.

It’s an exhilarating, awe-inspiring documentation of the remarkable referendum and the courageous women who led the charge. As Smyth says at the end of the film: “The revolution doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, but we have made a huge step here, and it is, in a way, revolutionary.”

In 2021, there is, of course, still work to be done. Activists argue that the current legislation doesn’t go far enough – just one in ten GPs provide abortion care, there’s still a medically unnecessary three-day wait for access, while marginalised groups like homeless people, migrants, and refugees can fall through the cracks. As the legislation is up for review, politicians have called for an independent investigation so that “recommendations can be evidence-based and promptly made”. 

Here, Andrea Horan reflects on the campaign three years on, discusses why it was important to show anti-choice commentators in The 8th, and ruminates on what still needs to be done to achieve complete body autonomy in Ireland.

How does it feel to watch the film now and be transported back to 2018’s historic referendum?

Andrea Horan: It’s completely bittersweet. Obviously it’s great to watch back (knowing that) the campaign was won by such a landslide, but it’s a reminder of all the trauma that we all went through to get to that point. There were so many great things to come out of campaigning – friendships, fun projects, new experiences – but there was also a lot of fraught moments – online abuse, the territorialism, and very late nights – and that’s still very much still in your muscle memory, and it comes to the fore when you tap back into that time. But then, every second of that is worth it for what happened on this day three years ago.

Can you talk me through how you were feeling in the run up to the referendum?

Andrea Horan: The main thing I was thinking the whole time is, ‘What is one more thing I can do to try and get this over the line?’. It felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen would be a tight result, to lose by a few per cent. So I was constantly thinking, ‘How can I get a few more people on board with this?’. There were so many different groups targeting all different demographics and types of people, adding to the surge every day, which was such an amazing thing to watch and be a part of.

“There was a lot of fraught moments... but every second of that is worth it for what happened on this day three years ago” – Andrea Horan

The film gives space for anti-choice commentators – why do you think it’s important to highlight the scope of opinion here?

Andrea Horan: The amazing filmmakers were very intent on the film giving proper context to what was happening on the ground, and reflecting the diversity of opinion and what the pro-choice campaign was up against. Without everyone’s opinion included, it wouldn’t have felt like the complete picture of what was going on.

What moments stood out to you most during campaigning? Are there any particularly striking archival footage moments in the film that spoke to you?

Andrea Horan: At the Hunreal Issues, we always spoke about the fact that we tried to “throw glitter on an issue, without minimising it”, so the things that stand out to me are people using their own interests and platforms to mobilise their own audiences. Also, Anna Cosgrave’s night in the Olympia was so powerful and uniting – it was such a great mix of entertainment, and different activists galvanising each other to get over the finish line. And watching Maser’s mural going back up after it was taken down. It had garnered such power, and people had interpreted it so much and made it their own – it felt very powerful to see it go back up.

Why do you think it’s important to highlight the joy in activism, especially on a subject and campaign that was so emotionally fraught and run on a lot of frustration and rage?

Andrea Horan: I think it’s important in activism to remember that people are all at different places. It can be frustrating when you live and breathe a campaign or cause when others aren’t as involved, dedicated, or knowledgeable, but to bring people along or get them as interested (as you are), you need to meet them where they are. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the fight to repeal but that I didn’t identify with the campaigns, so I knew there would be others like me who weren’t part of the conversation. The more voices which come together under one umbrella, the more types of different people who are reached, and that can only be a good thing.

Some criticisms of the Repeal campaign revolved around the lack of marginalised and diverse voices. Does the film reckon with that enough? How has the Repeal campaign unpacked it since in a meaningful way?

Andrea Horan: Personally, I think when there are criticisms of ‘the campaign’, that’s disregarding the many, many groups and people who were doing their own thing and had tailored campaigns for marginalised and diverse voices, separate to the main Together For Yes campaign. It wasn’t one campaign that won the referendum, and each part of it had an objective and audience to get the result over the line.

Three years on from the referendum, what still needs to be done to achieve complete body autonomy in Ireland?

Andrea Horan: While we’ve repealed the Eighth, that doesn’t mean that we have access (to abortion). Getting rid of it from the constitution was just the first step. There are very clever people who’ve been working on this for more years than (me), and who are working on getting access for everyone. There’s still people who are falling through the cracks, especially those over 12 weeks who need an abortion, and that’s not good enough. It’s not enough to just say we’re providing reproductive healthcare when there’s a number of maternity hospitals and GPs who aren’t offering the required services. We also have to ensure our National Maternity Hospital isn’t handed over to the Catholic Church. Religion has no place in a medical environment.

Ireland is still an unfriendly political and social space for women, whether direct provision or the reckoning with the laundries. How do you see the tides changing and the pressure being put on?

Andrea Horan: We’ve already seen the mobilisation and politicisation of so many people from the two referendums. Suddenly politics felt personal, like it affected people’s lives directly – even though it obviously always does – but it was done on so many people’s own terms. It wasn’t the grey suited, dour, media trained politician setting the agenda anymore.  And that has very clearly come through in how people are engaging in politics, and in who is getting voted in. The cat is out of the bag now – people know what they can achieve when they all come together.

The 8th is out now – find out how to watch in Ireland here and the UK here. On Thursday (May 27), Andrea Horan will be in conversation with Dazed’s editor Anna Cafolla, as well as designer Richard Malone and fashion activist Taryn Devere, to discuss how to approach activism with joy, colour, and fun. You can sign up to join here.