Skip to comments.This woman had an abortion 14 years ago-now she'll put the full horrors of the operation on TV. Why?
Posted on 04/18/2004 5:33:31 PM PDT by nickcarraway
This woman had an abortion 14 years ago now she'll put the full horrors of the operation on TV. Why?
MEET Julia Black. She is 35 and lives in Bristol with her partner and eight-month-old daughter; had she not in her words destroyed the foetus that was growing inside her when she was 21, she would now have a 14-year-old and would probably be too busy fending off requests for Busted merchandise to make a film which shows, for the first time on British TV, an actual abortion. The reason I know so much about Black is because of this film. Since it was announced two Sundays ago, My Foetus has been the subject of a debate so heated you could cook eggs (or other gametes) on it. Pundits on both sides of the ideological divide have rushed to praise and condemn the film, which also shows explicit images of aborted foetuses. This Tuesday youll have the chance to judge for yourself; Channel 4 is showing it at 11pm. Black believes this is too late at night, but many will find it a suitable time for a film which, at one point, shows the dead form of a 21-week-old foetus lying alongside a tape measure. Im a bit in shock, says Black when I meet her at Channel 4s London HQ. It is Wednesday, three days since the story broke, and she does seem genuinely astonished by how controversial her film has become. Every hour since Sunday has been filled with talking to journalists, and Richard and Judy, trying to maintain her breastfeeding schedule in between. She looks thin and tired. A prepacked sandwich lies unwrapped beside her while we talk.
My Foetus came about, she explains, because when she became pregnant at 34, it made her think back to her abortion and ask: Did I kill a foetus or a baby? Thus the title My Foetus refers both to the life inside her and the life she had previously rejected it is an attempt to make a distinction between the two. I found that I was developing a relationship with my foetus as it was growing, she says. I felt it kick for the first time at 16 weeks. That was when the maternal bond began, when the foetus became in her mind a baby. Yet this baby was only eight weeks older than the foetus she had aborted, and, as abortion in Britain is legal up to 24 weeks, she still had a further eight weeks in which she could, should she wish, get rid of it.
Black had always been staunchly pro-choice. She grew up in the heart of the abortion storm. Her father, Dr Tim Black, is the head of Marie Stopes International, Britains largest abortion provider outside of the NHS. Abortion is the family business; one might as well ask Paris Hilton to come out against hotels. In addition, Black was born in 1969, two years after the 1967 Abortion Act which made the procedure legal in this country. It was her birthright not to give birth.
My Foetus, then, is Blacks attempt to examine her instinctive views and see if they hold up under scrutiny. The pro-life movement has always said that you cannot look at the physical reality of abortion and remain pro-choice. In the film, Black does just that, and, by showing those images, implicitly asks the public to take the same challenge.
We have never been keen on doing so. Abortion is still a taboo subject, even though one in three British women will have the procedure. Every year there are around 180,000 abortions in the UK, roughly 12,000 in Scotland, 47 million globally. In the half hour it takes to watch My Foetus, a speedy doctor could perform 10.
I hope that the debate will now move away from asking whether abortion should be shown on television, says Black, and for society to start debating now that we know the facts should we go back to before 1967 and make it illegal and give the foetus more rights than the woman, or should we move forward and accept that abortion is a responsible decision that women can make for themselves?
Black makes the point that, as the law stands, two doctors must approve any application for an abortion. Most of the time, she says, this is a formality, but there are instances where doctors have subjected women to the emotional and psychological abuse of a pro-life lecture. So, she asks, should we have abortion on demand, where a woman can choose for herself, or is it just so horrific that it cant be something society accepts?
In Blacks film, the images of aborted foetuses at 10, 11 and 21 weeks are shown in the context of pro-life campaign materials. They are undoubtedly hard- hitting, but you may find, as I did, that the actual abortion, which comes toward the end of the film, is somewhat anti-climactic. It takes place at a Marie Stopes Clinic; the woman is anonymous and awake throughout, the abortion is performed under local anaesthetic using the manual vacuum aspiration method (a specially designed syringe provides suction) and is all over in a few minutes. Nevertheless, despite its surface mundanity, there are those who will find this footage extremely distressing; depending on your beliefs, you may even feel you are witnessing a murder.
It became very obvious to me, quite late in the production, that if I was making a film that looked at the facts of abortion, I had to show an abortion procedure, says Black. One of the criticisms has been that Im being sensationalist, but if you see it in the context of the film, I think it will be hard to say that this is just shock tactics. I couldnt find a justification not to show it.
Interestingly, the decision to show the abortion has been, on the whole, welcomed by anti-abortionists. I screened the film for Sister Roseann Reddy and Sister Andrea Fraile of the Pro-Life Initiative, the Glasgow-based organisation set up in 1997 by the late Cardinal Winning to provide support for women who agree not to terminate their pregnancies. They found My Foetus refreshingly candid and said it was the sort of thing they would show on school visits. They had seen American films of abortion before, but, says Sister Roseann, the problem with them was they were so dramatic. It was all John Wayne-type music in the background. What I liked about this film was that it was quite down to earth. The reality of the horror of abortion does not need to be made any more dramatic.
One problem the nuns had with the film, and which I also wondered about, was that Black shows an abortion taking place at four weeks, when what is aborted is still officially an embryo, six weeks away from having a recognisably human form. Some might call that a cop-out, a way of lessening the emotional impact of the scene. Why, I ask Black, did you make that decision?
Because I thought thats what was representative of the reality of abortion in this country. Fifty-seven per cent of abortions happen within the first nine weeks, 87% happen within the first 12 weeks. Less than 1% happen after 21 weeks. In any case, she says, the whole issue around abortion is the difficult dilemma of when does a life begin? If you believe it begins at conception, then its irrelevant as to which stage you see an abortion.
But how many abortions take place within four weeks? The most common is around seven, eight, nine weeks. So four weeks is on the lower end of when they would actually do a procedure. Medically, you want to wait until seven, eight weeks so you can be sure that the abortion is complete.
So it isnt representative because it is so early? It is early but it is still representative. The procedure wouldnt actually have looked any different. There would have been more blood, but the actual procedure would have been the same.
This isnt entirely satisfying. Perhaps aware that she hasnt been entirely convincing, Black returns to the point later in the interview. I dont feel the film skirts around the issue of late abortion, she says. You hear a very, very graphic description by one doctor of a late-stage abortion. For me, hearing those words brings up an image in my mind. I think we can leave that to peoples imagination. And I also felt that asking a woman who was in a late stage whether she was comfortable with us filming her abortion probably wasnt appropriate. I think its not an easy decision for women to make in the late stages.
Following the abortion, the remains of a seven-week pregnancy are placed in a Petri dish and examined by Black and a doctor. It doesnt look like a person. It looks like leftover food in the sink, or something new by Damien Hirst, a swirl of red suspended in clear fluid. Looking at it, I dont feel anything but curiosity; for Black, who remember aborted a foetus only one week older, it was more important. What I needed to do was somehow make the connection between my baby that I had now and the foetus that I destroyed at 21, she says. And I found myself in the situation where I couldnt necessarily see the distinction. So I needed, in a sense, to see what it was I had destroyed.
By the end of filming she felt at ease with her decision to abort, and was able to make a clear distinction between the baby she had and the foetus she didnt. Her beliefs took a battering, but she remains pro-choice, and more importantly she is now able to say very clearly, and unashamedly, why she holds that position: Ultimately my respect for a womans rights is more than my respect for the early stages of a potential human being.
While making My Foetus has convinced Black of her pro-choice position, there are those who believe it will have the opposite effect on the majority of viewers. When Black originally pitched the film, Channel 4 rejected it on the grounds that it wasnt going to be challenging enough to the liberal point of view. She went off and made My Foetus anyway, returning to the broadcaster with most of the film in the can, although not the abortion footage. This time they accepted it, and as Black says: Ironically, I think this film is probably more challenging to the liberal point of view than it is to the anti-abortion point of view.
I think shes right. Taking myself as a representative example, I have always been pro-choice, really without thinking too much about why. Its a typically lazy liberal position, requiring no effort to maintain because few people want to argue with it (historically, opinion polls tend to show that around two-thirds of Britons are in favour of legal abortion) and those who do are easily dismissed as extremists who fetishise pictures of dead babies. Seeing Blacks film, and reading a lot around the subject, has by no means converted me to the pro-life side, but has rocked me back on my heels somewhat, forcing me to consider my beliefs. This is what Black wants; she wants pro-choice people to be able to logically defend their position, but sowing the seed of doubt as she does is more helpful for the anti-abortionists than for the pro-choice movement, which to some extent relies on unquestioning liberalism like mine.
For me, the most powerful images in My Foetus are of life, not death. They come when Black interviews Professor Stuart Campbell, a pioneer in the field of ultrasound scanning. New technology allows for 3D imaging of the foetus in the womb, and we see pictures taken at nine, 12, 18 and 23 weeks all within the deadline for abortion. Its hard to look at those images of foetuses moving around, sucking their thumbs and so on, and say that its morally and legally right that we are allowed to end these lives. This is certainly Campbells view. Although he remains pro-choice, he believes that the legal limit for social terminations abortions carried out for non-medical reasons should be moved back from 24 to 12 weeks.
I ask Black whether she agrees with him. I do think it needs reviewing, but I dont know whether I would want to make a statement that I think its 12 weeks.
Why? Because I dont know if thats what I feel. For me, it was at 16 weeks. If women are having abortions for the same reasons as mine as a back-up, in a sense, to contraception then yes, in an ideal world, they should be able to make up their minds before the second trimester [which begins at 14 weeks]. But the reality is that some women dont find out until their pregnancies are well advanced, or some women young teenagers may be in denial about it. But I do think the legislation needs to be reviewed, definitely.
Could the law be changed? It is not inconceivable. In 1990, the legal limit was reduced from 28 to 24 weeks to take account of the fact that medical advances meant a premature infant could survive outside the womb from that point. Fourteen years later, premature infants have been known to survive from 23 weeks and, in rare cases, 22 weeks. Simultaneous with this is the campaign to allow women to request an abortion without recourse to permission from doctors. Experts, including Sir David Steel, who was the driving force behind the 1967 Abortion Act, believe that if this were to become law, the deadline would have to be pushed back, perhaps to the 12th week of pregnancy.
Then there is the so-called cleft palate case. The Rev Joanna Jepson challenged West Mercia Police for not taking action against doctors who carried out an abortion late in pregnancy on a foetus with a cleft palate. The law currently allows abortion after the 24-week limit in cases where a baby will be born with a severe abnormality a term which allows discretion on the part of doctors and the mother. Jepson argued that a cleft palate is not a serious handicap and that the abortion was an unlawful killing. On Friday it was announced that an investigation will be launched. This will clearly have significant legal repercussions, but whatever the outcome, pro-lifers sense that they can exploit the public unease with late abortion that such a case arouses.
Julia Blacks film is clearly just one of many influences shaping societal opinion on this issue, but it may have a more concrete and immediate impact. At the general elections in 1997 and 2001, the ProLife Party who would like to see all abortion outlawed attempted to show images of aborted foetuses as part of its election broadcast; all broadcasters, including Channel 4, refused to screen the film on the grounds that it contravened taste and decency guidelines. The PLP believe that My Foetus sets a new precedent, and that Channel 4 is opening the door to an explicit broadcast at the next general election. Its difficult to see how they could turn down our request to show a broadcast once this programme has been shown, says Julia Millington, the ProLife Partys political director. However, if that were the case, we would certainly challenge any refusal to transmit these images.
I ask Black if she feels responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle. I dont think I am, she says. They are two very different things.
You must admit, though, that your film makes it easier for the ProLife Party to get their broadcast on television? Thats an issue that they are going to have to discuss with Channel 4. We were very aware that they would use this film in future court cases, if it comes to that, but from what I understand, Channel 4 were prepared to discuss changing their broadcast to conform to the Broadcasting Act, and they werent prepared to do that.
Im sure it will be a difficult position for Channel 4 and other broadcasters to now defend not showing it, but I think its all about showing things in context and a balanced view. Personally, having seen their party election broadcast, it has a heavy moral agenda, and on top of that it is image after image after image of aborted foetuses. And thats very different to My Foetus where, in fact, the images that are challenging and some people would call distasteful are a small part of the film.
I have also seen both films and can compare them. There are significant differences between the PLP election broadcast and My Foetus in intent, treatment and frequency of key images. The ProLife Party film is certainly horrifying, replete with dismembered foetuses, and ends with a slow pan out from a dead eye, not unlike the shower scene in Psycho. I genuinely hope I never see it or anything like it again. Yet while I would be surprised if it was ever aired in its current form, it is surely inevitable that the PLP will succeed in including a comparable amount of explicit footage to that shown in My Foetus in their next election broadcast. Little wonder that they consider the film a spectacular own goal by the pro-choice movement.
For Julia Black, My Foetus has been, to some extent, an exercise in refusing to feel guilty, and she certainly isnt about to start feeling bad about what ideological monsters her film may have birthed. She has done what she set out to do moved the debate on from what can be shown and back to what should or should not be done. She, of course, hopes that society will decide that women have the right to make up their own minds about what they do with their bodies, but it remains to be seen exactly what ultimate impact if any her film will have on the law. One thing is for sure: when My Foetus airs on Tuesday night, British society will have taken an irreversible step; as with an abortion itself, it is a decision we cannot subsequently reverse, and one which we may yet come to regret.
My Foetus is on Channel 4 at 11pm on Tuesday
So in the end, self centered assertions end up being more important than a life that is denigrated by being termed "potential", when it was quite realized at the time it was ended.
Don't you wonder how something that the author can not seem to admit ever was alive, is now 'dead'? What is it or who is it that died?
'My Foetus', then, is Blacks attempt to examine her instinctive views and see if they hold up under scrutiny. [So spews the daughter of the father of lies, a murderer from the start. She isn't seeking to examine, she's seeking to create her truth, a twisted malignancy she is damned for aiding and abetting, to the destruction of fellow human beings. Does she think her twist will persuade God to condone her evil?... No, she hardly believes in God, just her selfish 'birthright'. Saved souls should thank God that they will not have to endure these evil harridans in eternity.] The pro-life movement has always said that you cannot look at the physical reality of abortion and remain pro-choice. In the film, Black does just that, and, by showing those images, implicitly asks the public to take the same challenge. I wonder, would such a bitch allow someone to tell the truth regarding the human being in the womb, before showing her bloody apologia, her epistle to her father, Satan? The first cell division of a conceptus proves there is at least one distinct human organism already living its lifetime, not to become a human organism at some conveniently arbitrary day in the future, but already a human organism living its lifetime, only to be murdered for the expedience and convenience of the soulless woman hiring the serial killer to do the deed. THAT truth will not be allowed to surface during this bitch's 'movie', you can bet on that!