RTL Criticises Biased BBC Documentary ‘Abortion On Trial’ Ahead of 50th Anniversary of Abortion Act 1967

Right To Life is criticising the BBC’s documentary, ‘Abortion On Trial’, a programme that was markedly one-sided not only in the people who formed the panel of people discussing the issue of abortion at the centre of the show, but the ‘experts’ who were brought on to discuss the issue with them, and the way the issue was framed by the programme.

The programme was presented not by a neutral observer, but by Anne Robinson, who is herself strongly in favour of legalised abortion, having been through an abortion herself in the late 60s. Of the 9 people the programme included in the group that joined her, only 2 were opposed to abortion, and only one of those consistently. The rest broadly believed in a permissive approach to abortion, albeit with individual reasons for opposing or being uncomfortable with certain reasons for having it.

The discussion of these individuals was influenced by individuals invited to talk to them, including a veteran campaigner for legal and permissive abortion practice, Diane Munday, and Lord Steel, the principal architect of the Abortion Act 1967. By contrast, no veteran or Parliamentary opponent of abortion was allowed to talk to the group. Munday and Steel both discussed the concept of ‘decriminalisation’ (the removal of criminal penalties for illegal abortions) which as Right To Life has pointed out before, if ever affected would lead to a situation of abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks or even up to birth. These implications of such a move were never discussed in the programme.

A moving account by an agoraphobic woman who endured an illegal abortion at home because she could not face getting one in a licensed abortion facility, emotionally manipulating the group into making abortion able to happen in women’s homes. Yet by contrast no one expressing health and safety concerns of the idea of home abortions, or any similarly moving account of a woman who suffered at the hands of abortion providers, or who chose not to go through an abortion and was glad of it, were shown.

Much of the second half of the programme was spent on a discussion as to whether men should be involved in abortion decisions, and have legal rights concerning the same, despite this never having been a proposal or issue in the British abortion debate. Whilst it was refreshing to see at least one man who had suffered from the abortion of his child, and the admission that men have a legitimate right to an opinion concerning abortion, the views expressed by him were emotionally insensitive and utterly unrepresentative of the right-to-life movement.

Indeed, insofar as the broader right-to-life movement was shown at all, it was only very briefly in the context of vigils outside abortion facilities, and a single March in Birmingham. Even these were only partially presented, and no attempt was apparently made to seek out larger or more established campaign groups or charities, such as Right To Life, Life, or CORE.

Finally, whilst a model of a 24-week old baby was shown in a discussion of foetal viability and the upper limit for most abortions, the issue of the humanity and development of the unborn child, which is crucial context to the abortion discussion, was left otherwise entirely unaddressed.

Added to all this imbalance, was the objectionable citation of polling within the programme, only two questions of the underlying data for which have been properly released. No mention was made of past polling to contextualise the findings of this polling. In May, polling by ComRes found that 59% of UK women wanted the upper limit for abortion to be reduced to at least 16 weeks (70% said at least 20 weeks), 91% wanted an explicit ban on sex-selective abortion (which Abortion on Trial spent less than a minute discussing), and 65% opposed British taxpayer money paying for abortions overseas. Only 2% wanted the upper abortion limit to be raised, which is what the ‘decriminalisation’ the group on the programme came to support came to support: an extreme minority position.

In all, this was an occasionally interesting, but overall deeply imbalanced and one-sided programme, set up in such a way so as to affirm certain pre-decided conclusions that fit with the agenda of the abortion lobby: ‘decriminalisation’ of abortion, and chemically-induced miscarriages at home. Nowhere near enough weight was given to concerns and questions raised by the right-to-life movement that show much more support by the public at large.

RTL Executive Officer Peter D. Williams, said:

“This was a badly biased BBC programme, which showed little-to-no concern for a fair-minded presentations of even the most basic issues of abortion.

Had the BBC been interested in a serious-minded programme that truly looked into all the areas of public interest concerning this sensitive issue, so as to properly inform the audience, they would have included pro-life guests to speak to the central group, included more people with right-to-life sympathies in the group itself, more properly characterised the implications of ‘decriminalisation’, and discussed issues such as the humanity of the unborn child or the harm that permissive abortion has brought to our society.

In the end, this programme was misleading and unhelpful as much due to what it left out as what it included. I hope any programming in the near future that coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act attempts a more balanced approach”.


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