The 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act in the UK came and went last week. Since then, almost 9 million abortions have taken place. A number of programmes were aired to mark the event. One was ‘Abortion on Trial’, presented by Anne Robinson. In fact, abortion wasn’t on trial at all. What was on trial was the 1967 law. It was on trial not for going too far, but for not going far enough.
The BBC brought together a number of women all of whom have had at least one abortion. Robinson herself had an abortion many years ago. The programme took place in Robinson’s house.
One of the women regretted her two abortions and is now opposed to abortion. The remainder are thoroughly in favour of abortion and by the end of the programme believed the 1967 law does not go far enough, if they did not believe this already.
The programme was highly manipulative and directed people down one road only. Aside from the women who regrets her abortions, abortion itself was in no way questioned. The architect of the 1967 law, David Steel was invited in at one point to meet the women. Anne Robinson could have asked him if he ever anticipated his law resulting in so many abortions. She didn’t. She invited him instead to agree that his law should be made even more liberal, and he was happy to do so.
Robinson could have asked the women themselves to ponder why so many pregnancies in Britain (one in five annually) now end in abortion. She didn’t.
She could have asked them what might be done to lower the abortion rate. She didn’t. She could have asked them to consider the moral status of the unborn child itself. She didn’t.
Almost everything she asked the participants invited them to believe the 1967 law doesn’t go far enough. By the end of the show almost all of the participants believed abortion should be completely decriminalised. By the end of the show they believed women should be able to take the abortion pill at home rather than having to go into a clinic.
By the end of the show one woman who had misgivings about aborting Down Syndrome children (she has a Down Syndrome child herself), came around to view that it should be permissible to abort such children right up to birth, in the name of choice.
In one particularly farcical moment, Robinson invited in an expert to discuss whether or not the foetus feels pain when it is being killed. The expert said we can’t know because we can’t ask it. This was plainly ridiculous. A living creature does not have to be able to speak in order to register pain.
The show was a huge missed opportunity to have a proper, rounded discussion about abortion and given the fact that the women taking part in it had all had at least one abortion, was biased by its very nature. But Robinson herself was a huge problem because the questions she asked were so directive, and were directing the participants, plus the viewers at home, to believe the current law is not permissive enough. Robinson herself, to borrow the title of the show that made her famous, was the ‘weakest link’.