In February 2017, Liverpool-based theatre company, 20 Stories High, co-produced a drama with Contact, called I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip, exploring the subject of abortion. Written and directed by Julia Samuels, it has since been developed for television by Lindy Heymann and is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
Told through the voices of four young female actors, Aizah Khan, Emma Burns, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell and Dorcas Sebuyange, the warm and honest piece is made up of verbatim interviews with young women in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The actors wear earpieces throughout and listen to the original interview recordings as they perform. Leaving the viewer with more questions than answers, the drama is a step in the right direction towards combatting the stigma around abortion, a procedure that one in three British women will undergo before they turn 45.
Here are the five biggest lessons we learned from the drama...
1. Our education system is failing young women
The level of ignorance and misinformation surrounding abortion, which the drama highlights, is disheartening and raises questions about the level of education young women get in school. When two of the characters are discussing abortion, one says, "Never did anything about it in Science. Never did anything about it in, you know, Social Health or anything like that...I had a pregnancy scare...and I was going ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I’m going to have to get an abortion...And I was going ‘Is it like how they say on like Dirty Dancing?...because she gets dead sick off it."
2. It shines a light on the issues surrounding abortion for Muslim women
One of the characters, Tanaya's story is particularly moving. As a young Muslim woman, she is forced to get an abortion out of fear – fear of bringing shame on her mother’s reputation within the community. The doctor who performs her abortion is her childhood GP and Tanaya says, “Well you know, of course he can’t say anything, but as soon as like I came out the room, like when it was done, I changed doctors really quickly."
3. The debate among medical professionals often leads to a shortage of care
The drama touches on the emotional toil and moral dilemmas that many doctors who perform abortions face. Doctors opting out of performing abortions due to their religious beliefs puts pressure on other doctors, which leads to a shortage of care for the young women who really need it. Something we hadn't thought about before seeing the show.
4. The financial burden placed for young women in Northern Ireland
For Leah, a 16-year-old girl from Northern Ireland, the termination cost £800, £80 for flights to the UK and £150 for the hotel she and her mother stayed in while they were here. As the drama highlights, many of these women come from low-income, working-class families, where for some, £800 can be a month’s earnings on minimum wage. However, in October 2017, the UK government revealed plans to provide free abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland, and has now set up a telephone booking system for women to arrange appointments with a medial professional in England. But this change in legislation does not cover the cost of travel or accommodation.
5. There is a huge and dangerous difference between women in the UK and women in the developing world when it comes to abortion
“My story goes undocumented, unrecorded, but I have a story to tell,” says an unnamed cousin, a young Zimbabwean woman (played by Sebuyange). After catching septicaemia from a backstreet abortion, the 21-year-old dies, highlighting how dangerous the procedure can be for women who don't have access to the same level of care we have here. It's a terrible reality that we rarely hear about in the UK.
I Told My Mum I Was Going On An RE Trip is available on BBC iPlayer until 20th February