Welcome to March 2017, let me introduce the key cultural players of this month: International Woman’s Day, Mother’s Day and International Day of the Unborn Child. What links all of these events? The answer is women and children, to be precise mothers and unborn children; two lives, both of which matter immensely to society.
The year 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act to the UK. Because Northern Ireland did not introduce the Act an estimated 100,000 lives have been saved, according to a report commissioned by Both Lives Matter. Meanwhile in England and Wales over 8 million lives have been lost to abortion throughout the past 50 years.
The debate around abortion continues. It can lead to polarisation, anger and aggression. There are so many stories to tell, so many voices to listen to and so many agendas. How do we hear all the stories and voices, and uncover the agendas being pushed on us as a society? Enter the theatrical space. This may not be the usual place to consider the topic of abortion, but theatre is a means by which people can investigate highly emotional topics in what is deemed a “safe space”. And this is where theatre group 20 Stories High have confronted the topic of abortion head on, with their production “I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip”, directed by Julia Samuels. The play explores what they describe as “one of society’s last taboos” using verbatim theatre, where the play is constructed round the actual words of people who have experienced pregnancy and abortion. The play toured during February and March, and I was invited to take part in a post-show discussion when it was performed in Northern Ireland on 23rd February in the Mac Theatre, Belfast.
I admire the use of Verbatim Theatre, where recorded interviews with around 50 individuals, focusing on three stories in particular, are used throughout the play. Four actresses told the stories of the interviewees, repeating verbatim the words of the interviews played to them through earpieces. The use of these interviews, as opposed to a script, meant that the emotion was high throughout. There was “humour” in some scenes, but it was an uncomfortable humour, given that the topic was that of abortion. What struck me was that this play was predominantly based in England, where there are nearly 200,000 abortions carried out every year, with the majority being described as for “social reasons”. Investigations into Marie Stopes and BPAS clinics in England has meant that rarely a week goes by where abortion is not reported in the national newspapers. Yet, this play clearly identified that young people, or those who had been interviewed for the play, knew very little about abortion or what it entailed.
The stories told in this play were all similar because at no time was a “choice” other than abortion ever discussed. No other options were investigated or even suggested. For each of the characters, abortion was the “choice” that would solve their crisis.
The section in the play which struck me the most was entitled “When is a Baby a Baby?”. There was a very obvious lack of understanding among the young people regarding the development of the unborn child, with comments such as “when does it get arms and legs?” and “is it a baby at 24 weeks?”. Interestingly, I noted that the audience members laughed quite a lot in this section; is this reflective of the fact the audience was made up of a majority of pro-abortion advocates? I felt there was a sense in the room that it was ok that these young people had no understanding of how the unborn child developed or indeed, as during another section of the play, that they had no understanding of what an abortion entailed. Ultimately having a ‘choice’ was more important than having an ‘understanding’, so it was ok to laugh: the mantra “my body my choice” is what matters, not the gestational development of the unborn child. Even in the post-show discussion, there was a real reluctance to discuss this aspect.
Education is vital. At LIFE we understand the importance of educating young people about the development of the unborn child. It is only when we give people the full factual information that we empower them with an understanding about when life begins; an understanding that a pregnancy is not a clump of cells but is in fact a developing human being. Not a potential human being but a human being with potential. We owe a huge debt to Lennart Nilsson, the Swedish photographer who gave us incredible images charting the development of the unborn child from conception to birth in his 1965 book “A Child Is Born: The drama of life before birth in unprecedented photographs. A practical guide for the expectant mother”.
Another aspect of the evening at this performance was the lack of balance. I had been assured that there would be other pro-life voices on the post-show discussion panel. However, I was the only one out of a panel of 10. The audience were mostly pro-choice and those taking part in the discussion were declared pro-abortion advocates. Some of them were activists, well known in NI for advocating for decriminalisation of abortion laws in NI. Others were academics or service providers who, outside of that theatre space, would have claimed to have been neutral but who on the night were clearly quite happy to share that they were pro-abortion advocates. I felt very much in a minority, having to defend my pro-life position. I was referred to as the “anti-choice girl on the panel”, a phrase which I refute quite simply because LIFE offers more options than abortion. Along with this was the evident dehumanising language used by those pushing an abortion agenda. An unborn child was a “growth”, a woman was an “incubator” and a man was an “impregnator”. This is a move from “no uterus no opinion”, where men are told they cannot comment, to now aggressively targeting them. The pro-abortion agenda is always to keep pushing.
The play was completely woman-focused, to the point that I felt that I couldn’t speak about the unborn child at all. Questions from the audience were from a woman-perspective only. In fact the main abortion activist on the panel was 37 weeks pregnant and she claimed that her pregnancy had increased her activism. She was proud to call herself “pro-abortion” because she believed abortion is a human right. As she sat there, heavily pregnant, with what I know to be a human child, I felt that I was being asked to respect her “choice” but not her child. I felt this was unfair and also that it was not a safe space for me to actually challenge her because of the hostility and tension in the room.
I am pro-life and much like the activist who was proud to say she is pro-abortion, I am proud to defend the right to life of all – born and unborn. I am a woman, a feminist, a mother. I am concerned for women who face crisis pregnancy, but this does not have to mean that I endorse access to abortion. I seek to affirm my femininity, my womanhood and my motherhood and be a role model to my four daughters, showing them what it means to be a pro-life feminist. I do not want my daughters to grow up in a society or culture that places them in opposition to their future unborn children.
During this month, March 2017, which will celebrate International Woman’s Day, Mothers’ Day and International Day of the Unborn Child, it is time to stand with women and unborn children. LIFE stands with women in crisis pregnancy, supporting and helping them, empowering them to make life-affirming choices to continue with their pregnancy. Frequently we are accused of being “pro-birth” and not pro-life, that our concerns around women and babies does not extend beyond the uterus. But LIFE supports women, children and families in many practical ways post-birth, supporting them practically and assisting them through our housing services or our broad range of care services. We stand with unborn children, defending their right to life. We stand with our young people, educating them on the development of unborn children and the reality of abortion, empowering them to make life-affirming decisions. We stand ready to promote a culture and a society that affirms all life, born and unborn.
I was referred to as the “anti-choice girl on the panel”, a phrase which I refute quite simply because LIFE offers more options than abortion. Along with this was the evident dehumanising language used by those pushing an abortion agenda. An unborn child was a “growth”, a woman was an “incubator” and a man was an “impregnator”. This is a move from “no uterus no opinion”, where men are told they cannot comment, to now aggressively targeting them. The pro-abortion agenda is always to keep pushing.-