Issue 3 : Easter 2002
in the Media
by Susannah Nightingale
the recent fun and games in EastEnders'
Evans family (illicit rendezvous with perishing ex-lovers,
illegitimate sons and sibling wars), most viewers will have clung to
the recent birth of baby Jack as a welcome end to the madness –
the soap baby will, naturally, bring guaranteed peace to his
troubled family. And
Natalie, the proud mother, is brimming over with clucky pride at her
little bundle of joy. But
goodness, let's not forget to breathe a collective sigh of relief
at this point - how lucky that she didn't go through with that
patently psychotic urge for an abortion when she first realised she
funny, because Nat seemed so sure at the time: she wasn't
ready for a baby, she needed to establish her
career and move out
of her husband's family home before becoming a mother.
Perfectly reasonable, you might think (particularly if said
family consists of peroxide Pat and dull Roy), but no!
Our plucky hero Barry comes to her rescue, gently persuading
her that she's just a little over-emotional and, phew – thank
God he did, because here we are with a happy new family that might
otherwise never have been. Dappy Natalie nearly screwed everything up.
Men, even such sorry specimens as the perpetually pouting
Barry, really are jolly decent to put up with these female follies
and calmly guide their gals in the right direction.
In a country where one in three women will have a termination in her
lifetime, recent media portrayals of abortion have amazed me. The Natalie storyline is not impossible, but I am confused by the
writers' unswerving insistence on her absolute certainty that
abortion was the right choice for her, until the very last moment
– such portrayals smack of her finally ‘seeing the light'.
Had the Natalie presented been a confused or uncertain woman,
her change of heart would have seemed infinitely more credible, but
she was neither. In
fact, the very plausibility of the script was sacrificed, presumably
to make a point –
|and the only
one I can dig out is that of the dangers of going through with
an abortion, even if you think
you're sure – come on, what do you
Look, after all, at Sharon, another exemplary case from EastEnders. Having
escaped an abusive and violent marriage, she found herself pregnant
and chose to have an abortion.
Six years down the line she is forced to confess all to her
ex-husband's brother, the new squeeze.
Phil is far from happy at news of the ‘murder' of his
nephew but, more to the point, his own capacity to spread his genes
(God help us all) stands threatened by Sharon's outrageous
actions. For she,
irresponsible, selfish whore that she is, neglected to take her
antibiotics after the operation, and is now infertile.
She made her decision and she paid the price, wounding her
man along the way.
|That both of
these storylines crop up so close to one another is troubling,
and one might be forgiven for suspecting that somebody at EastEnders has a chip on his shoulder and a moral to expound.
can we forget the miracle birth of Matthew in Cold Feet?"
But the trend is not restricted to the world of soap: how can we
forget the miracle birth of Matthew in Cold Feet? His
evidently amoral mother Rachel was previously pregnant at a time
when her relationship was strained and she had slept with her
ex-fiancé. Given the baby's uncertain paternity and her own unsure
situation, she chose to abort.
Cue the screeching devils: boy, did Rachel make a mistake. When she later encounters difficulties in starting a family
with Adam, she is understandably astonished at the doctor's
announcement that she will never conceive.
Her abortion involved a Dilation and Curettage (D&C)
procedure, which somehow damaged her endometrium and left her with
scar tissue cementing her womb together: partial Asherman's
infertility is a direct result of her decision to terminate.
following these storylines might be shocked at their revelations: we
begin to feel angry that nobody ever warns us that abortion can be
so risky. There's a
good reason for that: it's not.
Even with around 175,000 procedures carried out every year in
Britain, Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service
insists that no research has ever proved that abortion can be
damaging to a woman's health.
Before the 1967 Abortion Act, illegal practice and its
variable standards might well have resulted in more complications,
but this is no longer the case.
80% of abortions are now performed before 12 weeks, using a
suction device and no D&C.
While we might feel cheated that we've never even heard of
Asherman's Syndrome and its risks, there is really no reason why
we should have done. David
Painton, a leading authority on abortion in Britain, has been in
constant practice in the field since the 1950s, and claims to have
never once come across the condition.
Yet the makers of Cold Feet felt it appropriate to depart wholeheartedly from the
realism of the series and introduce the equivalent of a character
who just caught leprosy on the bus.
Without informing their audience of the facts about
Asherman's and the relative safety of abortion, this can only be
massively irresponsible. How
many women will turn off the TV and research the facts for
many women will turn off the TV and research the facts for
few: we might all assume that programme makers have a degree
of scruples, and that we wouldn't be faced with such an
emotive and turbulent storyline if it were not based in any
fact whatsoever. We
would be wrong.|
Given these recent outings of
the abortion issue, I cannot help but wonder about their objectives.
Though reasonably subtle in places, such as the case of
Natalie, I abhor the universally underlying implication that women
should be punished for exercising their legal right.
Still more troubling is the fact that it gestures to a
broader social sentiment that this is reasonable, which is reflected
in our law. The
legalities surrounding abortion are, even now, complicated:
technically, the woman is obliged to argue her case, in order to
secure the requisite two doctors' signatures – as if she were
trying to bunk off Games for period pains.
In a system that purports to embrace freedom of choice, this
is a curious formality: it indicates that a woman cannot be trusted
to make her own decision, even in consultation with her GP.
She is forced to submit to the superior institution of
medicine. While there
are rarely problems in securing the two signatures, this does beg
the question as to why the procedure exists.
It seems to work to profoundly undermine the woman making her
decision, echoing the sentiments of the Natalie storyline.
While many doctors are supportive of their patients' wishes, there
remains the minority who will refuse to sign the form, and question
the patient's motives. In
the Observer in April last year, Nicci Gerard quoted a health
“For some women, there are three reasons to have an abortion:
rape, incest and me.”
The implication is plain: the “me” factor is void, selfish and
unworthy. If a woman is
coerced into a pregnancy, many deign to agree that she should be
allowed to abort, but as soon as the case is simply one of a split
condom or slipped cap, she is selfish to insist on her own right to
the life of her choosing. A
2001 MORI poll found that 70% of the public agree that a woman
should be allowed to abort if there is evidence of serious foetal
physical disabilities, compared with only 50% supporting women who
simply do not want a child. “Me”
is just not sufficient: a woman's right to personal subjectivity
is consistently undermined.
In a society that is outwardly pro-choice and liberal, such
undercurrents of oppression are distinctly sinister: these
storylines are presented so as to encourage unthinking absorption of
their subtextual insinuations.
They do not encourage active debate through presentation of
facts, rather they threaten to bypass the thought process and take
hold in our conscience, ready for the day when we might need to make
this decision ourselves… and end up feeling strangely guilty about
Back to Gender Agenda Main