Tonight’s Call the Midwife on BBC1 was essential viewing. I’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning, although it attracts criticism for being ‘fluffy’ I’ve found that as well as offering the cute babies and typical sunday night drama fayre it has always shone a light on areas of social history too often forgotten. The birth of the NHS, the desperate poverty of many in postwar Britain and what life was like for working class women, covering issues such as pregnancy out of wedlock, interracial relationships, sexual assault and disability.
Tonight’s episode was one of the most moving yet. It focused on Nora, a mother of eight living in a cramped two room flat who finds she is pregnant again and is desperate not to be. Her husband struggles to ear a living doing casual dock work and they already struggle greatly to feed their family. She feels life with another mouth to feed would be unbearable, she is desperate and more than once asserts she would commit suicide if she had to endure another pregnancy and bring up another child.
The series is set in the mid 1950s, abortion was not made legal in the UK until 1967. Nora has already visited a ‘herbalist’ whose prescribed herbs failed to induce an abortion. She reaches out to Jenny, the midwife who can sense how desperate she is but cannot offer her anything but ante natal help and a referral to the family planning association after the baby is born. In desperation Nora tries gin, epsom salts and scalding hot baths, she is revealed to have bruises around her stomach when examined and her husband comes in having purchased knitting needles and a crochet hook. The Doctor she sees at an ante-natal clinic states, with a heavy heart, she cannot have a termination as there is no medical reason for it. This one comment sums up the whole pro-choice argument to me, here is a woman who is driven to such desperate measures, a distressed and suicidal woman, being told there is not a good enough medical reason for her to undergo a procedure. Her life, her body, her choices do not come into it. The law, made by rich, middle and upper class men, takes precedent over her life. This approach boils down to the assertions that a woman’s health, mental and physical, is not a good enough reason to have an abortion and that her opinions and ability to make choices about her own body, her own life are not valid reason.
Eventually, after selling her prized curtains and wedding ring as well as clearing out all their savings she returns to the herbalist who performs a surgical ‘detachment’ on Nora’s kitchen table. We are not shown what instruments she uses but Nora is in agony as no anaesthetic was used, and bleeds heavily. She is eventually rushed to hospital with a ‘miscarriage’ and treated kindly by doctors who turn a blind eye to what they know is an illegal abortion. She contracted septicaemia from the unclean instruments used and falls into a coma. However this being Sunday night on the BBC she is one of the lucky ones, she survives. As gruesome as her story is, she was one of the lucky ones, one of the very lucky ones. Countless women died due to unsafe abortions, often performed at great cost by unskilled practitioners, and millions of women worldwide still die in the same conditions, one only has to look at the recent preventable death of Savita Halappanavar. To be anti-choice and anti-abortion and anti-contraception is the opposite of being pro life. It is to disallow women choice over their own bodies. It is to leave women to die in horrific circumstances.
Whether abortion is legal or not some women will always be desperate enough to resort to measures they know may kill them, they may even deliberately choose suicide.
Safe, reliable and affordable/free contraception has been a godsend to women and safe, legal abortion has been a godsend too. To remove those choices from women is a death sentence.
‘Pro Life’ is a disgusting term for an ideology that condemns millions of women to death, disease, serious injury, mental health problems and lives of utter misery as well as denying us agency and control over our own bodies. It is why I use the term ‘anti choice’. There is a very good reason women campaign for reproductive rights using the symbol of a wire coat hanger, that is the reality of illegal abortion and no access to contraception. Along with knitting needles, toxic chemicals such as bleach, detergents, scalding hot baths, cocktails of unknown, unsafe medicines, throwing ones self down the stairs, hitting oneself viscously in the stomach and many other dangerous methods. I can’t reinforce this enough:
PRO LIFE IS A DEATH SENTENCE FOR WOMEN
I am glad the BBC decided to tackle this issue, perhaps it will make people think about the reality instead of being too quick to judge women who abort as ‘selfish sluts’ and other such untruths and vicious stereotypes.
image credit ms magazine