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Opinion, Comment & Reviews
Women's experiences

'My Foetus'
By Julia Black
April 12, 2004

I understand from Ellie Lee's comment that there is a lot of confusion as to what my film My Foetus is all about. (See http://www.prochoiceforum.org.uk/ocrwomex1.php)

When I began to make this film over a year ago I set out to explore the rights of the woman versus the rights of the foetus and use my pregnancy as a vehicle to do so. I started doing research and found that many people in the pro-choice camp had been saying, for a number of years, that we had to be more honest about what abortion actually is.

As I was pregnant I was following the development of my foetus very closely and for the first time in my life actually began to listen to the other side of the argument. As the daughter of the founder of Marie Stopes International, I have seen the important role abortion plays in giving women the right to control their own fertility and hence their futures. But I began to realise that my pro-choiceness, which I would defend aggressively, was founded on ignoring what the opposition had to say. My perception of the anti-abortion movement was based on knowing doctors in America who have 24 hour security and body guards to protect them from the anti-abortion terrorisms that goes on. So although I had all my reasons as to why abortion was a woman's right to choose I hadn't necessarily ever tested it by looking at abortion from the perspective of destroying the foetus and then defending my position.

The more I talked to people about the film I was setting out to make, my rights versus my foetus, I realised the more powerful film was the challenge I was facing as a result of my own pregnancy. Could I look at the facts about abortion and still be pro-choice? How strong was my conviction that a woman's right to abortion far out weighs the fact abortion destroys a potential human being?

To do this I started researching what it was the anti-abortion groups were actually saying. I went on all their websites to confront the graphic and grotesque images of aborted foetuses. I constantly came across the accusation that there was a cover up going on among the pro-choice movement and majority pro-choice media. If people knew the truth about abortion they would join the fight to make it illegal.

I realised that their most powerful weapon was the fact that these images were censored. If I showed their images they would be left with their extreme views that abortion is genocide, the modern day holocaust, or that women are victims at the hands of abortion doctors forced to murder their babies. These views wouldn't wash with the majority of the public because if one in three women were having an abortion at some stage during their reproductive lifetime then they knew they were not collaborating with doctors to systematically murder their foetuses. They were having abortions because, like me, there was one reason or another they could not cope with bringing a baby into this world.

So I made my first port of call to the USA to interview an American Pro-life campaigner who drives a huge 20ft by 13 ft truck around with images of ten and eleven week old aborted foetuses plastered over the sides and back. These are the first images the viewer encounters and they are clearly designed to shock and repulse.

From here I met up with an abortion doctor who talks about why he believes in performing abortions, despite the fact that in the late stages they are unpleasant to do. Some of what he says is extremely uncomfortable listening but it is the reality of abortion. He doesn't skirt around the issues of what abortion is and is among the most committed pro-choice people I have ever met.

Next I met up with a young pro-life woman who was arrested for campaigning with an image of a 21 week old aborted foetus. I wanted to interview her because I believed that it was wrong she was arrested. Was abortion only secure in this country if we locked up those who challenged us with the difficult reality?

When I was editing my film I deliberated about whether I should show this image. It is disturbing. It looks like a dead baby. But if my film was about me challenging my pro-choiceness to see if it stood the test how could I then censor what the viewer saw because I deemed it too distasteful for them to see. If they had decided to come on my journey with me then they had to also see it.

Immediately after the image is shown my commentary talks about how the image makes me angry because it only tells one side of the story. By this stage in the filming process I was heavily pregnant. The idea of having to be faced with aborting my own foetus at 21 weeks was a horrendous thought. It would be the most impossible decision and one that would stay with you forever. But these images do only make you see one side of the story and that is why they are such a powerful weapon in the anti-abortion propaganda. The pro-choice movement don't have the counter-weapon because women don't talk about having abortions - its still so heavily stigmatised.

The pro-choice people I had been talking to as part of my research or within my film were being extremely honest about abortion. This is what presented me and ultimately I believe for the viewer too, with the biggest challenge - not the images. They are disturbing and confronting but they are the reality of abortion.

The challenge both pro-life people I interviewed for my film set me was "if there is nothing wrong with abortion why do they resist showing it." I agree. The pro-choice movement is constantly saying that abortion is a fact of life, women can make responsible decisions about having an abortion, its such a simple procedure in the early stages, so indeed why has it not been shown on TV before? I had many conversations about whether filming an abortion was the right thing to do and ultimately my conversations with Marie Stopes International, British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Kings College Hospital concluded that it was. They all felt it was time to remove the veil of secrecy that surrounds it and demystify the procedure.

My film is not a gratuitous attempt to shock nor is it plastered with images of aborted foetuses. It presents the facts about abortion as told by abortion doctors and shows three images of aborted foetuses as used by the anti-abortion campaigners and observes the final POC inspection after the abortion procedure. This is all set within the context of interviews with the people I met along the way and my own journey of working through the emotional contradictions that looking at the facts of abortion throws up for someone who is pro-choice. I don't give any easy answers in my film but conclude that I am still pro-choice and leave it up to the viewer to make up their own minds.

It is a challenging film because the reality of abortion is very confronting. What I hope it can achieve is that the pro-choice movement can reclaim the most powerful weapon the anti-abortion groups currently have - the foetus and the baby.

For me after having made this film pro-choice now means not being afraid to talk about the reality of abortion, or about having had one, and not hiding it within the politically correct slogan of reproductive rights. If we really believe there is nothing wrong with abortion - which I still do - then lets be upfront about it.

If the public see this film will they switch camps? Yes some of them might but not necessarily from pro-choice to pro-life. I appeared on Richard & Judy the other night and they had shown the film to a group of young people. Two of them who had previously been anti-abortion came away having changed their minds to pro-abortion after seeing the film and discussing it with the group. So yes we can look at the facts about abortion and still be pro-choice and better still even become pro-choice.

I hope the abortion movement can embrace this film once they have had the chance to watch it and begin to help the generations of men and women who have grown up post the 1967 Abortion Act redefine what being pro-choice means for them.

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