IRELAND – #RepealedThe8th: Translating Travesty, Global Conversation, and the Irish Abortion Referendum

by Ruth Fletcher

Feminist Legal Studies November 2018;26(3):233-59


Why does #RepealedThe8th matter for feminist legal studies? The answers seem obvious in one sense. Feminism has long constituted itself through the struggle for sexual and reproductive justice, and Irish feminism has contributed a significant ‘legal win’ with the landslide vote of approval for lifting abortion restrictions in the referendum on the 25th May 2018. That win comes at a global moment when populist legal engagement is doing significant damage in countries that regard themselves as world leaders, and beyond. #RepealedThe8th offers Ireland, and the world, the actuality that the popular vote, and everything that contributes to it, could be something else. Repeal shows how legal tools like the vote may be made into an expression of care for reproductive lives. This expression is important in recognizing pregnant people as knowing agents who are best placed to decide, and in seeking to do justice to those who contribute to everyday reproductive life. But repeal, like the many who brought it into being, has multiple meanings. #RepealedThe8th matters because it is a moving process of socio-legal translation, which draws on a collective energy, ‘repeal energy’, to turn the travesty that was the Eighth Amendment and all it represents into a search for the rest of reproductive life. In opening up the meaning of the vote, much like feminists elsewhere have opened up the meaning of the strike, Irish feminists have turned public mourning over past mistreatment into a series of reproductive connections. This is not a strategy that can be rolled out. Figuring out #RepealedThe8th will take many tellings. Rather we need to give repeal, and repealers, room to breathe and rest. We need to feel our way through repeal’s production of legal change so that this success is not reduced to some generic transferable set of legal instructions. I begin by reflecting on repeal as a process of feminist socio-legal translation, which shows us how legal change comes about through the motivation of collective joy, the mourning of damaged and lost lives, the sharing of legal knowledge, and the claiming of the rest of reproductive life.

VISUAL: Together for Yes co-directors: Orla O’Connor, National Women’s Council of Ireland; Ailbhe Smyth, Coalition to Repeal the 8th; Grainne Griffin, Abortion Rights Campaign. Photo: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography in: Irish Examiner, 3 June 2019