Why Radio 5 Live’s programme broadcast from a Marie Stopes clinic was a great step forward

This is a guest post by Georgina Lewis. Georgina has worked with CIDEM (The Centre for Women’s Information and Development) and Marie Stopes International in Bolivia, as well as with the Terrence Higgins Trust Refugee Mentoring Project in London.

I thought that Victoria Derbyshire’s programme interviewing staff, walking through the experience of a woman visiting a Marie Stopes clinic and talking to women who had an abortion was a great contribution to the debate and to education on this subject. Inevitably, some of the questions Derbyshire asked and the emails from listeners that she read out lent a degree of legitimacy to anti-choice and highly judgemental public opinion that pro-choice campaigners will have felt uncomfortable with. However, we can’t pretend that these opinions don’t exist, and putting them forward in a context where informed professionals can address them, without the shouting emotion and confrontation that tend to characterise these discussions was a welcome change.

I know that many pro-choice campaigners will have been unhappy about the repeated use of the word ‘baby’ instead of ‘foetus’ by Victoria Derbyshire and will question whether using the word ‘treatment’ is supporting or hindering an end to the shame and stigma associated with abortion. I also realise that there are those who feel that portraying women seeking an abortion as vulnerable, distressed or ‘highly emotional’ is a misrepresentation, and that we shouldn’t get so hung up on the tragedy of abortions. Zoe Williams was particularly vociferous on last week’s Abortion Rights public meeting about her view that abortions are accidents that happen, that they aren’t always a tragedy or a massively distressing experience and that we should avoid portraying them as such.

Furthermore, the fact that Dr Paula Franklin said that for her the ideal situation would be for there to be no abortion and to have side-effect free contraception that was easily accessible to all will probably have grated against some. This view sits a little uneasily with the idea that the right number of abortions is the number that women need, and that they are a legitimate medical procedure like any other.

I really hope that schools and educators will use this programme as a resource to open up the mystery that I still think shrouds abortion and generate more useful discussions among young women and men, so that this is something that they really can make informed decisions about should they need to. The insistence by all staff and women on the programme that whatever decision a woman makes is the right one if it is the right one for her is exactly what pro-choice means to me. I hope that this programme leads to useful debate and a more open attitude to talking about it.

Some people seemed to think that this wasn’t an appropriate topic for radio. Yes, sex and reproduction are private matters, but government legislation made by politicians that we elect dictates what options there are for women and men in this regard and that makes it an important public and political issue too.

Photo by ge-shmally, shared under a Creative Commons licence.