Janet Street Porter opens up about having a backstreet abortion at 16
'The person who has to decide what’s right for a woman, is the woman'
On Tuesday’s episode of Loose Women, the broadcaster joined panellists Kaye Adams, Denise Welch and Coleen Nolan in a discussion about the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” which has been passed in the US state of Georgia.
Georgia recently became the fourth US state this year to make abortion illegal as soon as a heartbeat can be detected. The change in law has prompted a backlash online from several celebrities including actors Jameela Jamil and Alyssa Milano who have condemned it as "inhumane".
According to the NHS, a heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, long before many women even know they are expecting.
The other states to have passed the law include Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio.
During the discussion, the Independent columnist said she found it “very, very chilling that in the 21st century women are still not in charge of their own bodies”.
“I mean, the person who has to decide what’s right for a woman, is the woman,” she said.
After suggesting that young women are likely to be the most affected by Georgia’s new law, Street Porter reflected on her own experience with abortion as a teenager, revealing she was around 16 or 17-years-old when she found out she was pregnant.
Declaring that she had no idea what to do, Street Porter recalled visiting the West End in London where she took a “cocktail of dodgy drugs” with the hope that she could end the pregnancy.
After the method failed, Street Porter said that eventually someone told her about a "backstreet abortionist" in North London.
Before the Abortion Act 1967 came into force, an estimated 100,000 women in the UK were forced to seek out an unsafe, illegal abortion from an underground network of so-called "backstreet abortionists" that ran quietly across the country.
“They wanted £25 in cash and I got the money out of my Post Office account and went up there,” Street Porter recalled.
“I remember the walk from the station, I still dream about that walk. I walked along the road and went to the house, knocked on the door and went to a flat upstairs.
“I don’t want to go into detail on daytime TV but it was obvious I wasn’t very old. This woman told me to get on the kitchen table and then it happened.”
The 72-year-old said she spent the next 24 hours sitting on the toilet and believing she was to blame for falling pregnant.
“Afterwards I thought, ‘How stupid was I?’ because you blame yourself, contraception wasn’t easy to get then,” she said.
“Ever since that day I have campaigned and thought women have to be in charge of their own bodies and they have to have access to terminations.”
After the conversation turned to abortion laws closer to home in Northern Ireland, Street Porter said she “feels so sorry for women in Northern Ireland”, where it is currently illegal to have an abortion under laws dating back to the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The maximum sentence is life.
According to the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1945, abortion is only permitted when there is a risk to the life of the mother, or a serious risk to her physical or mental health.
In such an instance, women can have the termination in an NHS or private clinic in Northern Ireland.
“I just find that in the 21st century, how can it be that in Northern Ireland the only way you can get an abortion is if there’s a serious risk of loss of life,” Street Porter said.
“That’s just not right.”
The Loose Women panellist isn’t the only celebrity to have spoken out about the abortion law in Georgia.
Earlier this week, actor Jameela Jamil shared a thread of posts on Twitter regarding the foetal heartbeat law, calling it “inhumane” and “blatantly demonstrative of a hatred of women”.
She also described an abortion she had when she was younger as the “best decision” she ever made.
“This anti-abortion law in Georgia is so upsetting, inhumane, and blatantly demonstrative of a hatred of women, a disregard for our rights, bodies, mental health, and essentially a punishment for rape victims, forcing to carry the baby of their rapist,” Jamil wrote.
Jamil continued: ”I had an abortion when I was young, and it was the best decision I have ever made. Both for me, and for the baby I didn't want, and wasn't ready for, emotionally, psychologically and financially.”
Planned Parenthood released a statement moments after the bill was signed by the governor, and pledged to take Georgia to task over the abortion policy.
“Planned Parenthood will be suing the State of Georgia. We will fight this terrible bill because this is about our patients' lives,” Dr Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said.