Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode six of Call The Midwife’s tenth season. Please do not read on unless you are fully up to date with the BBC series.
Call The Midwife has always made a point of tackling important subjects – particularly with regards to women’s rights – over its 10-year run, and the latest season has proven little different. Indeed, the most recent episode of the BBC show (which aired on Sunday 23 May) has reminded us wholeheartedly what it was like to be a woman in this country in 1966, when abortion remained illegal.
During the thought-provoking episode, a young mother struggling to raise her family in poverty – not to mention her abusive husband’s violent behaviour towards her – raised concerns with Dr Patrick Turner (Stephen McGann) and Nurse Trixie Franklin (Helen George) after arriving at the clinic with a nasty vaginal infection.
When asked if she had done something to try and hurt herself or her unborn baby, the young mother confessed that she had “used a skewer” in a desperate bid to terminate the pregnancy. And, while her actions hadn’t had the desired effect, Dr Turner reminded her in no uncertain terms that she had been incredibly lucky not to cause herself lasting damage.
“You could even have died,” he said, before reassuring her that neither he nor Trixie would be reporting her “illegal” actions to the authorities.
However, the encounter was enough to prompt Trixie to take action. Posting an open letter in The Guardian, the young midwife called for new legislation to prevent such a thing from happening again, insisting that the government make abortion legal in the UK.
Trixie’s words didn’t just strike a chord with her colleagues and the people of Poplar; they also prompted a BBC radio station to reach out to her and ask her to partake in a radio debate on the matter.
After being granted permission by Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) and her colleagues at Nonnatus House, Trixie did just that, although she found it difficult to make her voice heard at first; the male radio host and an anti-abortion lawyer were far too busy talking over her and explaining why they “didn’t feel it [abortion] was necessary” in this day and age.
Cue Trixie cutting in and making a truly powerful speech.
“No doctor would subject a patient to a medical procedure that carries risks unless they felt it was necessary,” she told the men furiously.
“No doctor would consider termination likely it’s very often the last resort.”
Trixie continued: “These changes are being proposed to allow doctors to use their professional discretion when faced with women in desperate straits and to stop them from being castigated as criminals.
“Most babies are loved and wanted, but there are women who find themselves in situations that are harmful to their health and to their sanity, they simply cannot cope, they are living in dreadful social conditions with no hope and no money. How can that be beneficial to any child?”
When asked why women shouldn’t “change their conditions” to make their lives more suitable for motherhood, Trixie snapped back: “Why can’t we do both?
“I’m not here to speak for all midwives, just for myself. And all I know is what I’ve seen; women bleeding to death in dirty rooms up back alleys, women desperate to avoid the stigma of an unplanned baby – and there is still stigma.”
Then, echoing the words of Sister Julienne, Trixie added: “I know that this is a question of conscience, and my conscience tells me that this bill should pass.”
Of course, research has consistently shown us that Trixie is 100% correct; restricting access to safe abortions does not lower abortion rates. Instead, doing so forces women to seek more dangerous termination methods – and even data taken as recently as 2017 saw botched abortions cause about 8 to 11% of all maternal deaths in countries where abortion is illegal, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
No wonder, then, that the episode has been lauded by so many on Twitter as being “the most important” of Call The Midwife to date.
“Trixie’s radio interview had me in tears,” confessed one viewer.
“What an excellent episode… superb handling of political issues, hot topics of the day, with women frustrated by the old male society oppressing opinions and their lives,” said another.
And one more tweeted: “Trixie standing up for women across the world [was] just beautiful.
“No more being silenced and judged. Your body, your choice.”
Elsewhere, another wrote: “Trixie’s conviction and passion on the radio is tremendous.”
“I’ve never been prouder of Trixie, I hope there really was someone like her around then,” said another fan of the series.
Our favourite tweet of all, though, put it best: “I’ve seen every episode of Call The Midwife and loved them all, but tonight’s just blew me away. I often shed a few tears but tonight’s episode left me shaken and the tears came afterwards.
“Fabulous television. Thank you to everyone involved.”
Of course, anyone who knows their history will no doubt recall that Trixie won’t have long to wait before her dreams of a fairer world come true; the Abortion Act was eventually passed in October 1967, going into effect six months later.
At the passing of the bill, abortion was legal in a wide range of cases across Great Britain, with the exception of Northern Ireland.
Call The Midwife season 10 concludes on Sunday 30 May 2021 at 8pm on BBC One.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.