The latest season of Call the Midwife has a major abortion storyline that is drawing applause from pro-choice viewers and concern from pro-lifers who watch the show.
Season 8 of the popular series debuted Sunday on BBC One and will premier in the U.S. on PBS March 31.
The show, which first aired in 2012, follows the story of London midwives in the 1950s and 1960s, when abortion was illegal. They live in a Catholic convent called “Nonnatus House.”
Although Call the Midwife has tackled the issue of illegal abortion in at least two previous seasons, the subject is more prevalent in Season 8, according to cast and crew members.
The first episode of Season 8 shows an aspiring model named Cath who had undergone an illegal abortion entering Nonnatus House, where she is sheltered by Nurse Valerie Dyer. Cath miscarries at the house as a policeman sits downstairs, drinking tea, according to Radio Times.
“It’s a definite theme throughout the series, if you can say abortion is a theme,” actress Jennifer Kirby, who plays Dyer, told Radio Times. “Valerie obviously takes it to heart, because she’s so connected to that community. It’s where she’s from … so the idea that there’s something within the community, that women are having to go to this level – I think she feels it very personally.”
Kirby calls herself pro-choice and says there will be “further cases down the line” involving abortion in the series.
Abortion was legalized in most of the United Kingdom in 1967. The newest episodes are set in 1964.
“No matter what, if you’re creating drama that has a lot of heart behind it and a lot of feeling and a lot of passion, there’s always going to be people who feel certain ways about it and feel passionate about it in either sense, both positively and negatively,” Kirby said.
Executive producer Pippa Harris said the series’ new abortion them was inspired by research showing that 50 abortionists were imprisoned at HMP Holloway, a women’s prison, prior to 1967. Harris is proud of the pro-choice theme.
“Many of the reasons people enjoy the show is because things have improved so drastically since the 60s but I think it is useful to remind people of where we have come from,” Harris told The Telegraph.
“With the abortion debate we have seen recently in Ireland, still such an emotive live topic, it’s useful for people to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that it wasn’t legal in the rest of the U.K., and indeed is still illegal in Northern Ireland.”
The show, Harris said, has a “responsibility” to “make sure we are covering things sensitively in a properly researched way.”
“I hope it will make people stop and think and remember how recently abortion was illegal here, and the devastating effect that that had on a huge number of women’s lives, not just the women themselves but the people closest to them. It’s a hugely important issue.”
Some viewers were inspired by the plot.
“To all those believing #abortion should still be illegal in this day and age need to sit and watch #callthemidwife a difficult subject as always so carefully handled. Choice for women is a basic right, their lives and health must always matter,” one female British viewer wrote.
Others, though, believed the episode brushed over the life of the unborn.
“So sad to see botched abortion on #CallTheMidwife. Every life is precious, even the unborn,” wrote a female viewer on Twitter. “Only difference is the back street has become high street, preying on poor women who feel there is no other option but to end a life. #LoveBoth #ProLife #CompassiontoAll”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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