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Radio review: File on 4 and You’re Dead To Me

01 March 2024


File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) featured interviews with women who have been investigated on suspicion of procuring illegal abortions

File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) featured interviews with women who have been investigated on suspicion of procuring illegal abortions

WHAT does it mean to decriminalise rather than legalise? Since public attention was grabbed by the case of Carla Foster, who was jailed for taking abortion pills after the legal cut-off point, a campaign has reignited to change the law on abortions that are carried out after 24 weeks; and the question would appear fundamental. It is a question that engages with both the big picture — what is the law there for? — and the small — how are individual cases handled? And yet Divya Talwar, in File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), chose to ignore the former, and, following the standard journalism playbook, led with two case studies.

Of the two, only “Katie” actually broke the law. The case against “Sammy” was dropped. Indeed, one of the take-homes from the programme was that the numbers involved nationally are extremely small. In the period 2002-22, there were only three convictions for late abortions. Since then, there has been a small increase: a trend wthat is attributed to different causes, depending on whom you ask. Dr Jonathan Lord, who co-chairs the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, blames activists for stirring up indignation. Melanie McDonagh, who writes on the subject for various journals, and is presumably one of those activists whom Dr Lord has in mind, points to the continuing access to medical abortion by post, the requirement for an in-person consultation with a doctor having been dropped during Covid.

The topic being one of the utmost sensitivity, for which presentational and lexical protocols must be strictly observed, it was disappointing that we were left with an impression of one-sided victimhood, suffered as the result of a law that was “Victorian” — that most damning of epochal designations. This File on 4 vividly and powerfully depicted the trauma of Katie and Sammy’s situations. What responsibility has the law for preventing or alleviating that trauma? That is a question that the programme was incapable of answering.

Have you ever been made to feel that your contempt for the dumbing-down of contemporary culture might just be an expression of your age and unchecked prejudice? Well, take heart; for, in You’re Dead to Me (Radio 4, Saturday), you will get all the validation you need to continue in happy harrumphing. The topic was the Queen of Sheba. Greg Jenner’s guests comprised a serious academic, Dr Jillian Stinchcomb, who has written extensively on the historical evidence for the queen; and Sadia Azmat, a comedian.

Dr Stinchcomb compared accounts in Kings and 2 Chronicles; she talked of Josephus, Origen, and the Song of Songs. Ms Azmat speculated on the size of Solomon’s genitalia, and how potentates in that era shaved their legs. What Dr Stinchcomb, a postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, thought of it all, I can’t begin to imagine; and I wish I might have the opportunity to persuade her that the BBC is not always like this. But could I make a convincing case?

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