Can a play help achieve reform in abortion law? Read our interview with veteran broadcaster and campaigner Keith Hindell on why change is needed and how he hopes his new play can contribute to the debate. Dead or Alive? A Drama in the Womb is currently in previews at Theatro Technis. Time to get booking!
This timely new play examines abortion at a point when, in the UK, a woman’s right to choose is still limited by law, although medical advances have made the procedure safer and easier than ever before.
In Dead or Alive?, a pregnant woman ponders whether to abort the twin embryos she is carrying and discusses it directly with them. One of them wants the right to live, while the other respects her mother’s decision. Her tentative intention to abort is forcefully challenged by a modern prince charming, the putative father. The situation is further complicated when two strange creatures emerge from “inner space”. Ultimately, the woman must choose the fate of her unborn children.
The Abortion Act of 1967 enables a pregnant woman to qualify for an abortion if two doctors certify that her symptoms meet certain criteria. Abortions in Britain which do not meet these minimum tests are still illegal, subject to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
“I wanted to loosen the legal bonds on pregnant women in Britain and elsewhere. No woman should be forced to give birth. If they are forced, they are likely to make bad mothers.”
Over the 50 years since the 1967 Act came into effect, those who favoured abortion inside and outside of the medical profession have built a system that interprets the Act liberally. Currently, much of the medical establishment has declared itself in favour of repealing the 1967 Act. With new, medically safe pills in her hand, a pregnant woman can use them as she pleases without having to meet any medical or moral criteria. Use of such pills has been declared illegal in Northern Ireland, where the 1861 Act makes virtually all abortion a criminal act, but has not yet been determined by the British Courts.
Dead or Alive? runs from 15 to 26 May 2018 at Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Road, Camden, London NW1 1TT, with performances (75 minutes) every day except Sunday 20 May at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £12 (concessions £10). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Talking to… Keith Hindell
Dead or Alive? author Keith Hindell was a broadcaster for the BBC, working as their United Nations Correspondent from 1980-84 and as a presenter of Peaceful Solutions and Media Watch in the BBC World Service in the late 1980s and 90s. He has also served as the UN Information Officer in London, and the Chairman of London and the South East Region for the UN Association. In the 1970s he was on the board of Pregnancy Advisory Service, a non-profit organisation providing abortion and contraception services in London. He was also the co-author with Madeleine Simms of Abortion Law Reformed (Peter Owen 1971, reissued as a paperback in 2012).
In a nutshell, what do you think needs to change in terms of UK law around abortion?
The two “magic pills” (mifepristone and misoprostol) mean that women can bypass the present laws to give themselves safe and reliable abortions in early pregnancy.
So the clauses in the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act which say self-abortion is a criminal offence should be repealed. In addition, the 1967 Abortion Act should be amended so that abortions in early pregnancy are no longer required to be certified by two doctors and carried out in registered clinics or NHS premises. Moreover, the regulations could be changed (without a change in the law) so that nurses could administer the pills and advise women as to their use without being supervised by doctors.
The Irish referendum on abortion takes place on 25 May 2018. What do you think will happen?
It looks as if the referendum will repeal the 8th Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution, thereby allowing the government to pass a law which would grant abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. That’s not perfect but it’s a great improvement. We cannot predict what will happen in Northern Ireland as a result. They haven’t even got a government at the moment.
Why did you want to write a play about this subject?
I wanted to loosen the legal bonds on pregnant women in Britain and elsewhere. No woman should be forced to give birth. If they are forced, they are likely to make bad mothers.