It is a less than well-known fact that abortion is still illegal in the U.K. The reality is Victorian-era laws remain in force and a woman who ends her own pregnancy could face life imprisonment. (And so could any doctor that provides an unauthorized termination.)
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is running a stunning new campaign to overturn two sections of the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act, together with similar legal frameworks in Scotland. Although the 1967 Abortion Act in effect made abortion accessible for U.K. women, (except those in Northern Ireland) by making it lawful if two doctors concluded continuing a pregnancy would be harmful to the woman’s physical or mental health, it did not invalidate the relevant parts of the 1861 Act. Rather, it stipulated certain circumstances in which women and their doctors would not be criminalized.
The BPAS campaign, “We Trust Women” calls on people to challenge the law and a film reminds them that they stand “On the Shoulders of Giants”. The gripping 2-minute and 40-second long online video takes viewers through a timeline of achievements related to women’s equality in the U.K., beginning with a 26,000-signature petition, which led to the Married Women’s Property Act in 1882, to the modern days of the Spice Girls’ “Girl Power” and Emma Watson launching HeForShe at the UN in 2014.
The video, by agency Don’t Panic, was created by making intricate laser cuts of illustrations of the key events, hand drawn by Samuel St. Leger. Then, in one take, the images are revealed by purple paint running down a single, seven-foot long sheet of paper.
“What you’re seeing is purple poster paint flowing on vinyl under a long series of wooden laser cuts that we made of significant milestones in British feminism,” Don’t Panic creative director Richard Beer tells Co.Create. “It was the result of an extremely long–and unexpectedly arduous!–R&D phase that included many phases of experiments with different materials, inks, paints, hydrophobic sprays, wax and so on.”
The powerful catalog of victories ends with the narrator, actor Gemma Chan (Humans) saying “One day, our own sons and daughters, when we choose to have them, will stand on our shoulders and see further than we have ever seen before. And they will know that, when it counted, our generation stood up.” The film closes by asking people to help overturn the law and join the campaign.
A website lays out in detail why it is important to take abortion out of criminal law and “make clear that we trust women to make their own decisions about their own lives and bodies”.
The campaign is supported by a coalition of women’s rights groups, reproductive rights campaigners and other professional bodies.
“BPAS’s campaign is just the latest small step on the road to equality,” says Beer. “Most progress comes in small steps, not seismic changes, so to truly understand the importance of each small step, you have to see it in context. Only then can you really grasp the cause and effect that drives centuries of incremental progress.”