Life NI's Marion Woods went to see the play “I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip” and was asked to speak on a panel afterwards. Find out what happened...
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. Our culture shapes our society. The way we view mothers and their children, born and unborn, this shapes our society. The way we value the lives of both women and children shapes our society and informs the decisions we make to protect these lives as a society.
The year 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act, an amendment to the 1861 Offences against the Person Act, to the UK except in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland made the decision not to enact the 1967 Abortion Act and as a result, demonstrated by a report commissioned by Both Lives Matter, an estimated 100,000 lives have been saved. Meanwhile in England and Wales over 8 million lives have been lost to abortion throughout the past 50 years.
The debate around abortion continues. In some cases it leads to polarised stances, anger and aggression. In other cases there is a significant attempt at discussion and conversation to drive into the many facets of the issue. The difficulty is that that there are so many stories to tell, so many voices to listen to and also many agendas being pushed. The question becomes, how can we hear all the stories, how can we give space to all the voices and also how can we reveal the agendas being pushed on us as a society, especially when they come covered in a mask of compassion.
Enter the theatrical space. This is probably not the place where someone would usually consider the topic of abortion being appropriately presented. However, that is not to say that theatre cannot have a place. Forum Theatre and Verbatim Theatre along with theatre-in-education are styles which have been growing now for several decades as a means by which people can investigate topics of high emotion in what is deemed a “safe space”, safe for the actors, the topic and the audience. And this is where 20 Stories High have come front and centre ahead of International Woman’s Day 2017 with their production “I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip”.
“I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip”
“A 20 Stories High and Contact co-production. With 1 in 3 women in the U.K having had an abortion “I told my mum I was going on an R.E. trip…” explores what seems to be one of society’s last taboos. A multi-talented young female ensemble use verbatim voices live music, beats and rhyme to portray the stories of real women who’ve experienced pregnancy and abortion…… The show is written and directed by Julia Samuels drawing on over 50 interviews with young women, boyfriends, parents, doctors and campaigners.”
The play toured during February and the first week in 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.
My first thoughts as I watched the play was that I did actually admire the use of Verbatim Theatre. The Director had interviewed around 50 individuals and had recorded these interviews. From that she had chosen 3 stories that could be told in the original words of the interviewee and one separate story to be told using song. The use of interviews as opposed to a scripted play-text meant that the emotion was high throughout and even though there was “humour” in some scenes it was an uncomfortable “humour” which was the product of the simple fact that what was being discussed in the performance was the topic of abortion.
What struck me was that this play was predominantly based in England, a place which has had effectively abortion reform since 1967, a place which sees nearly 200,000 abortions carried out every year and the majority of these abortions have been described as being for “social reasons”. England has seen a focus on the issues around abortion especially in terms of the investigations into health and safety in Marie Stopes and BPAS clinics. It feels like there is rarely a week that goes by where there is not some expose being reported in the national papers about abortion in England. Yet, this play clearly identified that young people, or those who had been interviewed for the play, knew very little about abortion, about what it entailed.
The play was divided into sections and the four actresses introduced each section. Each of the actresses was listening to the recorded interviews on an earphone set so that they could repeat verbatim the words of the interviewees for each story being told on stage. The stage was minimalistic and there were very few props used.
The three stories which were told in the Verbatim style were similar in the sense that at no time was a “choice” other than abortion ever discussed. In the first instance, the girl facing the crisis pregnancy had been taking drugs and in a relationship with a drug dealer. She instantly turned to the “choice” of abortion because she didn’t feel she would make a good mother. She was from a Muslim background and did not want to tell her family she was pregnant. She travelled to a clinic alone and had her abortion alone.
In the second story, a girl told that of the three times she was pregnant she had two abortions. However, even the pregnancy which she continued with was tinged with a suggestion that she had been forced to continue with the pregnancy because her partner wanted her to. The suggestion seemed to be that her “choice” would have immediately been abortion.
In the third story, a girl from Northern Ireland travelled to Liverpool with her mother to access an abortion. This story was framed as being again her “choice” and her mother never suggested anything different. Being from Northern Ireland where abortion is not available unless a mother’s life is at risk meant that she travelled to access the abortion. As she travelled she seemed to be in confusion as to whether to go through with the abortion or not. Her concern was over the money she had borrowed but even then dark humour was used as her mother suggested that instead of an abortion they could go on a shopping spree. The girl however “chose” to have the abortion.
At no time were any other options investigated or even suggested. There was no mention of counselling, practical support, care or housing and community support. It was suggested that for each of the characters there was no option at the end of the day. Abortion was the choice that would solve their crisis.
When is a baby a baby?
The section in the play which struck me the most was entitled “When is a Baby a Baby”. I think what struck me most about this section was the clear lack of understanding the young people who had been interviewed for the play had in terms of understanding the development of the unborn child. Comments such as “when it has arms and legs”, “when does it get arms and legs”, “it’s a baby at 24 weeks” “what about 23 weeks”.
Interestingly, I noted that the audience members laughed at quite a few moments in this section and I thought this was reflective of the fact that audience was made up of a majority of pro-abortion advocates. There was a sense that I felt from the room as we watched 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. The feeling was that ultimately it was ok because what was being pushed was the idea of “choice”. So long as the “choice” to end a crisis pregnancy was there then it was ok to laugh, to not fully understand because the mantra “my body my choice” was more important. Even in the post-show discussion there was resistance to even discussing the gestational development of the unborn child.
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 in fact a human being with potential. We owe a huge debt to Lennart Nilsson, the Swedish photographer and scientist who in his lifetime (he unfortunately died on 28th January 2017 aged 94) 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”.
Who needs balance?
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, out of a panel of 10, I was the only pro-life voice. The people watching the play were mostly pro-choice voices and those taking part in the post-show 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 quite clearly happy to share in that space that they were pro-abortion advocates and agenda led. I felt very much in a minority, fire-fighting to defend my pro-life position. A lot of the questions I was asked were pointed, using volatile language. 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 such as practical help, counselling, access to information surrounding fostering and adoption.
Incubator v impregnator
There was a lot of hostility in the room towards me and the pro-life message I was conveying. Along with this was the evident dehumanising language used by those pushing an abortion agenda. An unborn child was dehumanised and called a “growth”, a woman was dehumanised and called an “incubator” and a man was dehumanised and called an “impregnator”. In the past year the dehumanising language has become more evident and more aggressive. This was the first time I had heard a man referred to as an “impregnator” as opposed to the usual mantra of “no uterus no opinion”. We have moved now from telling men they cannot comment on this topic to now aggressively targeting them with dehumanising language. It reminded me that the pro-abortion agenda is to keep pushing.
The play was completely woman-focused. The woman was separated from the unborn child. This was especially evident in the post-show discussion to the point that I felt that I couldn’t speak about the unborn child. I was being asked a lot of questions 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 and 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 but I also felt that it was not a safe space for me to actually challenge that because of the hostility and tension in the room.
Pro-life, pro-woman, pro-baby
Frequently we are accused of being “pro-birth” and not pro-life. I have been told that my concerns around women and babies does not extend beyond the uterus even though Life supports women, children and families in many practical ways post-birth, not least through our supported housing and community support services.
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 and I am concerned for women who face crisis pregnancy. This does not mean that I endorse access to abortion. I am a feminist and this means I seek to affirm my femininity, my womanhood and my motherhood. I am a mother and I want to be a role model to my four daughters. I want to demonstrate for 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 tells them they are in opposition to the unborn child they may one day be fortunate enough to give birth to.
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. We stand with women and families after birth, supporting them practically and assisting them, whether that is 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.