It was lone a mates of years ago, I’d warrant, that the bulk of radical successful Great Britain became alert of the information that, though the 1967 Abortion Act has permitted the termination of unwanted pregnancies for the past 50-odd years, its remit ne'er extended to Northern Ireland. An bonzer grassroots run to springiness the country’s women the aforesaid rights that beryllium successful England culminated successful Westminster forcing the decriminalisation of the process successful 2019.
Gwyneth Hughes’s play Three Families (BBC One) began successful 2013 and took successful the concern astatine the time, and the combat for liberalisation of the law, done a bid of idiosyncratic alternatively than governmental lenses. The trio of narratives were based connected Hughes’s interviews with 3 women whose lives were altered by the astir restrictive termination laws successful Europe.
The archetypal communicative centres astir Theresa (Sinéad Keenan). Despite spiritual qualms, she orders termination pills for her underage large girl and is charged nether the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 for procuring an abortion. The 2nd strand follows Hannah (Amy James-Kelly), who is forced to spell done with a much-wanted gestation adjacent aft the unborn babe – a miss – is diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality. The kid cannot past aft birth, if she adjacent survives that.
Hannah is, adjacent nether Northern Irish rules, technically entitled to a termination but her doc refuses to licence it and she is misinformed astir deadlines for the cognition successful England. She finds solace successful activism, joining the run to alteration the law.
The 3rd communicative begins successful the 2nd occurrence of the two-parter, and involves Rosie (Genevieve O’Reilly), a pistillate who again qualifies, connected paper, for a termination, due to the fact that of the probable catastrophic effect connected her intelligence wellness if she is required to present a babe that volition dice earlier oregon soon aft birth.
By virtuousness of its content, this could not person been different than an emotive drama. But its imaginable powerfulness was vastly attenuated by an underpowered, unevocative publication (“I privation a life, Mammy! I don’t privation …” “A beingness similar mine?”) that ne'er allowed it to transcend the box-ticking facet oregon make the characters overmuch beyond ciphers.
And, fixed the extent of the feeling and historical part determination was – and remains – astir the contented successful Northern Ireland, determination was remarkably small hostility passim (even successful the 2nd part, wherever you mightiness person expected immoderate ratcheting). Theresa’s interior struggle was swiftly acceptable aside. All the women’s husbands were fundamentally supportive of their decisions, and the showdown you would person thought apt betwixt Theresa and her champion person Louise (Kerri Quinn), who spent her spare clip protesting extracurricular the Marie Stopes session successful Belfast, pressing integrative models of embryos into the hands of women being escorted done the maelstrom to entree their services, did not materialise.
While it whitethorn accurately bespeak the idiosyncratic acquisition of Hughes’s interviewees, Three Families failed to dramatise the larger issues astatine play. The massive, enduring absorption to giving women the close to take came and comes from somewhere. It remains 1 of the astir intractable subjects successful the state (the decriminalisation is inactive being officially and unofficially resisted today).
Aside from Hannah’s engagement with the run (which was lone fleetingly shown, had her husband’s afloat enactment and led to nary problems determination oregon successful her wider acquaintanceship), the attraction connected the idiosyncratic facet created a strangely depoliticised play astir a play successful which the implicit other happened. This was a clip erstwhile mean women recovered themselves marching, leafleting, speaking retired astir their experiences and demanding that they beryllium granted quality rights commensurate with those of women crossed the tiny agelong of oversea that presented specified a obstruction to freedom, successful hitherto unheard-of numbers. And yet the top prejudice immoderate of the 3 faced present was erstwhile a workfellow of Hannah’s was told astir the abnormality and replied – again with the signature deficiency of subtlety to the script: “Abortion is wrong. It’s sidesplitting babies,” and told her kindly that she wouldn’t repetition the speech arsenic “It’s not a happening you privation radical gossiping about.”
Perhaps if it had been fixed 3 hours to archer the stories we would person got a amended consciousness of the complexities and intersections betwixt the influences (church, state, sexism, each permeating the other) that person shaped and restricted the country’s laws for truthful long. As it was, it felt excessively rushed and superficial. But determination will, alas, beryllium galore different chances to archer these stories inactive to come.