The BBC documentary 'Abortion on Trial'

The BBC documentary ‘Abortion on Trial’   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Mary Finch, East London Socialist Party

Abortion on Trial is a hard-hitting, personal and political look at the 1967 Abortion Act. Eight women, who had all had abortions, and one man were invited to discuss their experiences and opinions of abortion.

The programme’s participants emphasised the fact that abortion always has and always will happen, regardless of legality. Laws restricting abortion only serve to make abortion dangerous, as women are forced to visit backstreet clinics, or even attempt to perform the procedure themselves.

It’s especially dangerous for working class women. Before 1967, the only way to legally obtain an abortion was to pay a psychiatrist to declare a woman suicidal – this was the route taken by one woman on the programme.

Her friend, who couldn’t afford the legal procedure, had a backstreet abortion and died as a result. This harrowing confrontation with the reality of illegal abortions was the catalyst for her becoming a life-long campaigner for the right to choose.

The only two anti-abortion participants, the man and one of the women, both admitted their reasons for their pro-life position were intensely personal. The pro-life man was pro-choice before his ex-partner aborted a pregnancy against his wishes.

But such arbitrary personal beliefs cannot be allowed to determine whether or not a woman will carry a pregnancy to term.

Abortion on Trial is resolute in its conclusions that free, safe, and legal access to abortion is an absolute necessity. It’s equally clear that the 1967 Abortion Act is insufficient, primarily because it legalises abortion only in certain circumstances.

Because of its focus on the experiences and current legal rights of women, though, it only cursorily covers how to actually expand the law.

The 1967 Abortion Act was a reflection of the mass social upheaval of the 1960s. Women took a lead from black civil rights campaigners and others, and used the method of mass action to win the right to choose. Similar mass, united struggle of working class people is what will win the battle to defend and extend abortion rights today.

The Socialist Party fights for access to abortion but also living wages, decent affordable housing and childcare and everything that is needed to have full and genuine choice over when and whether to have children.