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When Ireland said ‘Yes’: digitally-preserving the campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment

This blog was originally published on the Digital Preservation Coalition website on 5 July 2021. 

By Dr Lorraine Grimes, Postdoctoral Researcher and Archivist at the Digital Repository of Ireland 

 

The Archiving Reproductive Health Project aims to provide long-term preservation and access to the many at-risk archives generated by grassroots women’s reproductive health movements during the campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. The project will collect, catalogue and preserve in the Digital Repository of Ireland much of the born-digital content generated by grassroots organisations such as Terminations for Medical Reasons, Together for Yes, Coalition to Repeal the 8th and the Abortion Rights Campaign. It will also preserve digitally-born material, particularly the In Her Shoes Facebook page.

The In Her Shoes Facebook page was founded by an activist in January 2018 as a means of information and social support for Irish women who had had an abortion, and a space where women could share their experiences. Women submitted their stories of being denied abortion care in Ireland prior to the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Usually a photo of a woman’s shoes was uploaded alongside the story, which provided a humane and very real aspect to the story. This online resource offered an insight into the realities surrounding the illegality of abortion in Ireland. As archivists and researchers, we therefore saw it as essential that this resource be digitally preserved.

The stories provide us with details of being refused healthcare, barriers to access, the experiences of travel for healthcare abroad, illegally ordering pills online and the emotional impact of this. By sharing women’s stories it allows us to learn from their experiences and develop as a society. The In Her Shoes personal accounts were instrumental in changing public opinion concerning abortion. The general public in Ireland showed great interest in the Facebook page in the run up to the referendum and archiving for ‘the collective good’ may lead to social as well as political change.

 

Photo by Aileen O'Carroll

The Archiving Reproductive Health project explores the ethical considerations of storytelling and archiving. As well as archiving material, researchers on this project are currently developing a protocol for working with potentially traumatic data. This protocol will be made available on the DRI webpage and will be beneficial to any researcher working with sensitive data.

The In Her Shoes data is beneficial to researchers in the area of women’s reproductive health, human rights, law, social science and many other fields. The stories are also of interest to feminists and activists who advocate in the area of reproductive health, to help change public opinion in relation to abortion, and de-stigmatise abortion. The preservation of women’s narratives will contribute towards de-stigmatisation of abortion, by encouraging further research in the area. Furthermore, it will acknowledge the work of the collaborator of these stories and most importantly, ensure that these women are remembered, that their stories are not forgotten.

To find out more about the project ‘Digital Preservation of Reproductive Health Resources: Archiving the 8th’ including its aims, project partners, and research data sets, visit the DRI website.