Three Families writer ‘amazed’ at Northern Ireland abortion debate

Sinead Keenan  attending the Virgin Media BAFTA TV awards, held at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Sinead Keenan attending the Virgin Media BAFTA TV awards, held at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

The writer of a new drama which focuses on abortion in Northern Ireland has said she was “amazed” to discover how many women from the region travel to England to undergo the procedure.

Gwyneth Hughes’ two-part series Three Families, starring Sinead Keenan, is set between 2013 and 2019, and tells the true story of three women and their families before the recent change to legislation.

Abortion laws in the country were liberalised by MPs at Westminster in 2019 at a time when powersharing was collapsed.

New regulations came into operation a year ago and, while individual health trusts are offering services on an ad hoc basis, the Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services on a region-wide basis.

However, in the absence of fully commissioned services being available, women from Northern Ireland are still travelling to England to access abortions.

Hughes said she has lived her whole life in a country where abortion is legal, adding: “So 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 arrived in Belfast to begin my research at the height of a ferocious campaign, which culminated in the Westminster Government controversially imposing legal change when Assembly was suspended,” she added.

“But I did not want to write a political film, or a campaigning one.

Tolkien UK Premiere – London
Genevieve O’Reilly also appears in the new drama (Isabel Infantes/PA)

“I wanted to be fair to both sides – to all sides, in fact, as in the world of real life there are always more than two!

“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.

“What about people like our character Theresa, who thought she was against abortion until her own 15-year-old daughter fell pregnant?”

Three Families stars Little Boy Blue actress Keenan, alongside Bloodlands star Lola Petticrew, Gentleman Jack’s Amy James-Kelly and The Dry’s Genevieve O’Reilly.

Three Families begins on May 10 on BBC One.

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