The plan was straightforward enough. Pop out from the edit suite where I was working on one of my new films. Go have my 12-week scan. Be told that everything was fine – maybe even better than fine, like I was told last time. Then hurry back to get on with finishing the film.
After spending 20 gruelling months on the road in America – Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and then back to Alabama, then Georgia and Kansas again – I was looking forward to some time off. I was looking forward to spending time with my daughter. I was looking forward to being pregnant, with my second child.
Except, when I had my scan, I wasn’t told that everything was better than fine. Instead, I was told that the foetus I was carrying had no heartbeat. It was dead. I heard the sonographer explain the situation and what would happen next - how they’d book me an appointment in the next week for the procedure to remove the foetus – but I wasn’t really listening. I suddenly felt very weary. Numb.
I went back to the edit suite as planned. I couldn’t not with deadlines looming. Besides, I wanted to get back to work. I love my work and I needed to be occupied, to hold onto something. Not that work would, even for a moment, take my mind off my own situation of course. How could it? The film I was working on was called America’s War on Abortion. The stories I was trying to tell were those of women in need of abortions, women who had to have terminations for medical reasons, women who had abortions because they chose to, and women who had abortions because they felt they had no other choice. Women who has lost wanted pregnancies. Women like me.
As I watch myself on a monitor speaking to these women like me, the difference in our circumstances couldn’t be starker.
As I watch myself on a monitor speaking to these women like me, the difference in our circumstances couldn’t be starker. For many of the women in my film live in Alabama and Alabama has some of the strictest abortion laws in America. As well as banning abortion in cases of rape and incest, the state passed a ‘heartbeat bill’ in 2014, which prohibits abortions after a foetal heartbeat can be detected, and was set to impose a near-total ban on abortions last year - though a legal challenge has delayed implementation. Nevertheless, and in common with much of America, it is increasingly difficult to get an abortion in Alabama. Once, there were 20 clinics offering abortions. Now there are three. In an area roughly the same size as England.
If I lived in Alabama, I’d have to go to one of those clinics for the procedure that, in the UK, I’ll undergo at my local hospital. And if actually getting to the clinic wasn’t trial enough, I’d then have to run the gamut of anti-abortion protestors in the clinic car park. Regardless of my reasons for using the clinic, they’d shout 'whore' and 'baby killer' at me. They’d harangue and harass me, accuse me of 'opening my legs for anyone', of being a slut, a sinner, even a Satanist.
I know the protestors would do this to me because I witnessed them subjecting patients to such abuse outside the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives. I spoke to them then and tried to understand their motivation and their behaviour, and while I’m sure they are completely sincere in their beliefs, they are so utterly misguided that it’s both terrifying and incredibly sad.
Tormenting women who have had to choose between two impossible choices – have a baby that they are not equipped to care for, or have an abortion – feels beyond cruel to me. Who are they, I wonder, to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her body? Who are they to decree that the potential of a foetus must take priority over the potential of the woman who carries it? Who are they to decide that, irrespective of her psychological, medical or financial situation, a woman must have a baby? Will they make that woman’s life safer or more comfortable so that she can raise that child with as much support as possible? Or, as soon as the baby is born, will they cease to care about it and leave mother and child to fend for themselves? Will they use their energies to fight inequality and combat poverty? Will they work towards that child having access to healthy food, a decent education and affordable healthcare?
I have had two abortions. Were it not for those abortions, I wouldn’t be writing this now. I wouldn’t have the life I have, I wouldn’t have the career I have, I wouldn’t have my beautiful and loved daughter. I have zero regrets.
This isn’t to say that abortion isn’t a difficult choice to make. It is. You are ending a life – or a form of life anyway. But that’s my choice to make, no one else’s. Just as it’s my burden to carry.
I think about the women I met in Alabama when I arrive home, late. My daughter is, of course, asleep. I lay down beside her and hold her tight. I think about how lucky I am.
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A week later, I woke up from the anaesthetic after the procedure – a surgical evacuation - and a nurse was tenderly holding my hand as her colleague ensured I am okay. The three of us cried – for our own losses and for each other’s, and because, as one of the nurses noted, 'It isn’t easy being a woman.'
With the appointment of conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the US supreme court, the overturning of Roe v Wade - the landmark 1973 ruling which effectively legalised abortion in America - looks like a very real, very alarming possibility. If that happens, it will become even harder being a woman in Alabama, and every other state in the USA.
America’s War on Abortion is on ITV tonight at 10.45pm and then available on ITV Hub.