BBC’s Three Families shows the devastating reality of criminalising abortion in Northern Ireland

New series, BBC’s Three Families shows the heartbreaking reality of the criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland

BBC's Three Families
(Image credit: BBC)

A new drama BBC’s Three Families looks at abortion in Northern Ireland and the devastating reality of criminalizing abortion.

Set in Northern Ireland, BBC’s Three Families focuses on the lives of three different families in Belfast who must deal with the heartbreaking realities of the criminalization of abortion. 

Although abortion was decriminalized in 2019, for many years abortion was a criminal offense in Northern Ireland that was punishable with jail time. This meant that many people would have almost no options when it came to having an unwanted pregnancy. 

The show explores the different reasons that some women may want or need an abortion and how many pregnant people had to make difficult decisions based on strict legislation in Northern Ireland. 


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Cast member Lola Petticrew whose character takes pills from the internet to terminate her pregnancy, spoke to Radio 1 Newsbeat about the importance of the series. 

Lola said, "We really hoped that what people take from this drama, is that behind all of the statistics and rhetoric, there are people and real lives." 

She continued to say, "I think this is a really important drama. Sometimes the voices in sensitive topics like this can be so loud but behind all of that there are people in real situations that need help."

BBC's Three Families

(Image credit: BBC)

Is Three Families based on a true story?

Yes, Three Families is based on true stories that took place in real life. At the beginning of the series, the show states, "Based on True Stories. All names have been changed." 

This means that although the stories are true, the names are fictional and the people that the stories are based on would prefer to remain anonymous. 

The events in this series also took place before the change in legislation in 2019. In October 2019, abortion was decriminalized in Northern Ireland. Only last year in March, a new framework for legal abortion services came into effect in Northern Ireland.

How many episodes does BBC Three Families have?

The limited series has only two episodes, both of which are available on BBC iPlayer. The first episode premiered on the 10th May 2021 and the second aired on Tuesday 11th May 2021. 

Both episodes are an hour long and entwine the life stories of various characters who must face the consequences of the criminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland. 

BBC's Three Families

(Image credit: BBC)

Who is in the cast of BBC’s Three Families?

There are many stars and breakout actors who feature in the series. Colin Morgan who came to fame in Merlin and The Fall, features as Jonathan, the husband of Hannah. Hannah and Jonathan are devastated to learn that their child has a fatal fetal abnormality. Hannah is played by Amy James-Kelly. Amy is best known for playing Maddie Heath in the ITV soap opera, Coronation Street. 

Sinead Keenan, best known for her roles in Being Human and Fair City, plays Theresa Ryan who helps her 15-year-old daughter purchase pills for an abortion. Lola Petticrew, best known for her work in Bloodlands and Shadows, plays her daughter Orla. 

Genevieve O’Reilly also stars as Rosie, a woman who has a geriatric pregnancy with her husband  David, played by Prasanna Puwanarajah.

Is there a trailer to BBC’s Three Families?

There is a trailer for this limited series that gives a brief insight into the challenging themes of this series. 

If you have been affected by any of these issues and you need advice or just someone to talk to, call Support line on 01708 765200 for confidential emotional support and advice.