A new two-part BBC drama will give a compelling insight into the lives of those who were affected by strict abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
Based on real-life events, ‘Three Families’ will explore how abortion laws led to catastrophic implications for the families and unborn children of three families.
Written by Gwyneth Hughes (Doing Money) and produced by the makers of BAFTA award winning BBC series, Three Girls, the story reflects the impact of the Abortion Act of 1967, which legalised abortion in the UK but not in Northern Ireland.
So, who are the three families the drama is based on and what is it about? This is what you need to know.
What is the true story behind ‘Three Families’?
While the identity of the women who told their stories to Hughes have been protected, the drama is as close to true events as possible.
The women who feature are Rosie, Theresa and Hannah, however these are not their real names.
Theresa (Sinéad Keenan) is the mother of 15-year-old girl, Orla (Lola Petticrew), who falls pregnant with an unwanted child. She must go against her own “pro-choice” beliefs to support her daughter. Theresa narrowly avoids jail after helping Orla to terminate her pregnancy.
Hannah (Amy James-Kelly) is a young newly-wed who falls pregnant with her first child, she is overjoyed to be expecting, but soon realises the child has a fatal fetal abnormality.
She and her husband, Jonathan, played by Colin Morgan, will reveal the heartache and trauma caused by the ordeal.
Rosie (Genevieve O’Reilly) is an older, wealthier woman whose unborn baby has a genetic condition, Edward’s Syndrome. Her child has no chance of survival.
Speaking about the drama, and the families whose lives it is based on, O-Reilly said:
“I think the women who shared their stories with Gwyneth are courageous and brave and that their stories should be shared respectfully. I know we were all keen to honour these women and their voices.”
Hughes said of writing the drama: “Classically the abortion debate is presented as two opposing and immoveable camps – ‘pro-life’, and ‘pro-choice’. But as I discovered, it’s not as simple as that.
“When executive producer Sue Hogg first asked me to write Three Families, I was amazed to discover that thousands of women from Northern Ireland still had to get on planes and ferries and go to England in search of terminations they could not access at home.
“I’d simply never understood that the 1967 Act excluded Northern Ireland.”
Hughes said she has not taken a bias approach to the documentary, with pro-choice and pro-life arguments respected throughout.
The drama is not for political or campaigning purposes, she explained, but rather to tell of the harrowing and difficult nature of making the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
The trailer shows how the girls react to the initial news of their pregnancies and how they come to decide to abort their unborn babies.
What are the abortion laws in Northern Ireland?
Until the UK Government was lobbied to force through legalised terminations in Northern Ireland, on the principles of human rights, abortions where illegal in the country.
Despite much opposition for pro-life campaigners, The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 was passed in Westminser and made abortions legal in Northern Ireland.
This would allow access to abortions for up to 12 weeks gestation (11 weeks and 6 days), without conditionality, to be certified by one medical professional that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week.
It also permits terminations with no limit on when during the pregnancy, if the child suffers from fatal foetal abnormalities - where there is a substantial risk that the fetus would die or, if born, would suffer a severe mental or physical impairment.
It was during the campaigning in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK in the run up to the vote to legalise abortion, that Hughes travelled to Belfast to research the issue and hear from those affected by the laws.
Prior to 2020, thousands of women had travelled on ferries and planes to mainland UK to have terminations, given that abotions have been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 1967.
The BBC synopsis states the series “explores the emotional background to a controversial campaign, which culminated in the UK government forcing a liberalisation of the law in Northern Ireland”.
When is Three Families on TV?
Episode 1 of Three Families will be shown on BBC One on Monday 10 May, at 9pm.
Episode 2 will air the following night, Tuesday 11 May, at 9pm.
You can also watch both episodes on BBC iPlayer, on demand after they’ve been on TV.