In new play Dead or Alive? A Drama in the Womb, premiering this week at London’s Theatro Technis, a pregnant woman ponders whether to abort twin embryos. It’s been 50 years since abortions became legal in the UK, but many issues around abortion rights are far from settled in the British Isles.
On 25 May 2018, Irish voters take to the polls in a referendum on decriminalising abortion, while here in the UK, the Scottish government’s plans to make abortion-inducing drugs available is under court scrutiny and, in London, campaigners have clashed over protest access outside family planning clinics. Meanwhile, many doctors and other experts, including Dead or Alive?‘s author Keith Hindell, argue that The Abortion Act of 1967 is no longer fit for purpose.
Below, Hindell summarises the need for further abortion reform and, below, we round up other recent, related headlines and opinions. You can also read our separate interview with Hindell here. Over to you to see the play and debate the issues!
The Abortion Act 1967 has liberated pregnant women from their biological imperative. Drafted as a law to allow abortions only in specified circumstances, in practice it was gradually applied more liberally as demand grew, medical techniques improved and most important of all, pills were invented which were almost foolproof in early pregnancy. Now its requirements look restrictive and unnecessary.
The pills are so reliable and safe that they can be taken in early pregnancy without medical supervision or follow up. In most cases, the effect on the woman is similar to a bad period.
Under a law of 1861, it’s still a criminal offence for a woman to procure her own abortion – despite the fact that, with the modern pills, some women use them on their own, bypassing the regulated abortion service, which is free in Britain.
“It’s still a criminal offence for a woman to procure her own abortion”
A majority of MPs voted in favour of repealing the criminal law on abortion, but no government of any party has proposed such a reform. So, although abortion is the keystone of women’s equality, healthy women, without mental or social problems, are technically not eligible for an abortion.
My interest in this subject was first aroused as a BBC producer in 1966 when Abortion Reform was being discussed in Parliament. I wrote two documentaries about the Silkin Bill and then the Steel Bill, which eventually became The Abortion Act of 1967.
From there I wrote a history of Abortion Reform with Madeleine Simms (a leading campaigner) and then became a Board Member of the non-profit Pregnancy Advisory Service. This service was set up to address the huge increase in demand for abortion, which the NHS could not meet. After ten years there, I resigned to become the BBC’s United Nations Correspondent, but my interest remained strong and continues.
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!