The 8th: Ireland, the abortion referendum. You can feel the tectonic plates shifting

TV: This highly watchable film chronicles the Repeal side’s winning campaign of 2018

Wed, Aug 4, 2021
Ed Power

The historic significance of the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, in the referendum of 2018, was lost on nobody at the time. Three years later, The 8th (RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.35pm) captures the sense that tectonic plates were shifting under Irish society as the electorate went to the polls to allow abortion in Ireland.

The 8th, which comes to television after a video-on-demand run earlier this year, is told largely from the perspective of the Repeal campaign, particularly that of the veteran women’s-rights advocate Ailbhe Smyth. The point she and other campaigners make over and over is that, although the vote was of course about restoring to women their bodily autonomy, the wider context was the State’s beginning a long journey of atonement for decades of institutionalised misogyny.


Why Ireland’s battle over abortion is far from over

Why Ireland’s battle over abortion is far from over
From sham websites to rogue crisis pregnancy centres, Irish anti-abortionists are using shocking tactics to block women’s rights to safe abortions

Caelainn Hogan
Thu 3 Oct 2019

It has been more than a year since the landslide vote for abortion rights in Ireland, yet last weekend hundreds of people were once more marching through the streets of Dublin, chanting: “Get your rosaries off our ovaries!” “It’s nonsense, what are they marching for?” a guard standing on the road outside the National maternity hospital asked a colleague on a motorbike – referring to the 2018 referendum in which the Irish public voted overwhelmingly to repeal the law prohibiting abortion. The answer is that, while the law may have changed, many people are still struggling to access abortions in Ireland due to a lack of provision, the time restrictions on terminations, the illegal activities of anti-abortion campaigners – and an enduring legacy of shame.


This abortion law isn’t what Ireland voted for

This abortion law isn't what Ireland voted for
The Dáil should listen to the voters, not generate red tape that could stop vulnerable people getting the care they need

Emer O’Toole
Tue 4 Dec 2018

In 1983, as the Irish electorate voted in favour of a constitutional ban on abortion, campaigners warned in bold print: “This Amendment Could Kill Women.”

It did.

Following the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar’s death in 2012, Irish politicians were forced to legislate on a 20-year-old supreme court decision, one that consecutive governments had conspicuously kicked into the long grass. In 1992, a judge had ruled that a suicidal teenage rape victim had the right to an abortion. When the government finally produced the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, it was so clearly unfit for purpose that the Abortion Rights Campaign doubted it would enable a suicidal teenage rape victim to access a termination at all.


Decades of painful activism pays off for Ireland’s abortion campaigners

Decades of painful activism pays off for Ireland's abortion campaigners
For many, Friday’s vote was not just the culmination of months of campaigning, but years of pushing for change

Emma Graham-Harrison in Dublin
Mon 28 May 2018

Three decades ago, Anne Marie Keary was threatened with jail, burdened with legal bills and grappling with abuse and threats that poured down her phone, because she had published phone numbers for British abortion clinics in a student welfare guide.

In the pre-internet era, that information was a lifeline for women who did not want to continue with pregnancies. The desperation of those trying to find it shaped Keary’s life.


Where Did Ireland Go? Abortion Vote Stuns Those on Both Sides

Where Did Ireland Go? Abortion Vote Stuns Those on Both Sides

By Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura
May 27, 2018

DUBLIN — Some were joyous. Others were devastated. But most of all, in the hours after Irish voters swept away a ban on abortion, many were simply astonished.

However they felt about the result of the referendum, they were witnessing, they knew, the culmination of a fundamental shift in Irish society — and one that has come about with stunning speed.


On the Ground in Ireland: Fighting to Repeal Abortion Ban

On the Ground in Ireland: Fighting to Repeal Abortion Ban
Ireland's abortion ban "was a disaster for women’s rights, it was a disaster for the education of Irish children, but it really infected every aspect of Irish society and we are still undoing the legacy of this.”

May 23, 2018
Sarah Jaffe

In 1983, when Irish people voted in the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, the county of Donegal had some of the highest vote totals for the near-total abortion ban via fetal “personhood.” More than 80 percent of voters in the rural northwest of Ireland voted for the amendment. It was therefore a surprise to see it dotted with bright pink “yes” signs reading “Our Bodies, Our Choice” Monday and Tuesday before the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The pink signs that I saw most often are from People Before Profit, a socialist party that organizes and holds elected office in the Republic of Ireland as well as in Northern Ireland, and I accompanied its canvassers into Donegal to see about the state of things in this conservative part of Ireland.


Ireland’s Feminists Lost the Abortion Argument in ’83. This Time We Can Win.

Ireland’s Feminists Lost the Abortion Argument in ’83. This Time We Can Win.

By Susan Mckay
May 5, 2018

DUBLIN — In 1983 the Irish people voted to give a fertilized egg the same right to life as the woman who carries it. Feminists tried to stop it. We argued that crisis pregnancies were a reality of women’s lives and that we needed the right to choose how to deal with them. We said that the constitutional amendment on the ballot, which made abortion illegal unless the mother’s life is in danger, would harm women. We marched and chanted “Get your rosaries off our ovaries.” A Catholic bishop pronounced that the most dangerous place for a baby was in a woman’s womb.

We lost, overwhelmingly. But Ireland has changed. On May 25, the Irish people will vote on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment. This time I think we can win.


Geraldine Kennedy: Why I am a reluctant Yes to repeal Eighth Amendment

Geraldine Kennedy: Why I am a reluctant Yes to repeal Eighth Amendment
It’s a long way from what I voted against in 1983 to the right to abortion at 12 weeks ‘without any indication’

April 27, 2018
Geraldine Kennedy

There have been almost 30 referendums since the Constitution was adopted in 1937. I have covered the vast majority of them in my journalistic career. There have been more abortion questions put to the people in referendums than any other single issue in the history of the State. So, I have become something of a specialist on abortion. The referendum on May 25th is the sixth time around for me.

The first time was on September 7th, 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was put into the Constitution. It is hard to believe that it was held almost 35 years ago. This means every voter under the age of 53 years or so, depending on their political awareness, has no personal memory of that campaign.


Ireland’s abortion debates through the years

Ireland's abortion debates through the years

Friday, 27 Apr 2018
By David McCullagh

With four weeks to go until Ireland votes on the referendum on the Eighth Amendment on Friday 25 May, David McCullagh looks back on the contentious debates over Ireland's abortion legislation.

Offences Against the Person Act makes it an offence unlawfully to administer poison or to use an instrument on any woman with intent to procure her miscarriage.

British Abortion Act is passed legalising abortion up to 28 weeks’ gestation.


Why Ireland faces fifth divisive referendum on abortion in 35 years

Why Ireland faces fifth divisive referendum on abortion in 35 years

Larry Donnelly
April 22, 2018

Back in 1983, two thirds of the Irish people voted to insert the following language into their constitution in a referendum: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

What became the 8th Amendment was largely driven by the Catholic Church and conservative forces, who were cognisant of a liberal abortion regime in the United Kingdom and the recognition of a constitutional right to abortion in the United States, and wanted to prevent something similar here in Ireland.