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BBC’s Three Families: Is it based on a true story?

Three Families follows the storylines of three different pregnancies (Picture: BBC)

BBC’s new drama Three Families tells the harrowing stories of three women in Northern Ireland seeking abortions before terminations were legalised.

It is set in the years running up to the decriminalisation of abortion in the region in 2019, with the families setting out the ‘emotional background’ to the change in law.

Read on to find out whether the show is based on a true story.

Is Three Families based on a true story?

At the heart of Three Families is the story of mother Theresa (Sinéad Keenan), whose teenage daughter Orla (Lola Pettricrew) reveals is pregnant.

Theresa is a devout Catholic but once she finds out Orla’s boyfriend has been violently assaulting her to stop the pregnancy, she jumps into action and provides her daughter with abortion pills.

Amy James-Kelly plays Hannah in Three Families

It is set in the years running up to the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland (Picture: BBC)

This story is based on a case from 2015 that made international headlines, where a woman in Northern Ireland was to be prosecuted for buying abortion pills online and giving them to her 15-year-old daughter.

If found guilty, the woman would be facing up to 10 years in prison.

The pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, are prescribed by medics to safely induce abortion. However, because Northern Ireland used to have one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world (abortion was only decriminalised in 2019), they were illegal.

The two other pregnant characters are also based on real women, who were thrilled to find out they were expecting. Unfortunately they still suffer because of Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws.

Young couple Hannah (Amy James-Kelly) and Jonathan (Colin Morgan) have been trying to conceive for some time, while middle-aged Rosie (Genevieve O’Reilly) had come to terms with the fact that she’ll never become pregnant.

The show explores the heartbreak of being forced to carry ill babies to term (Picture: BBC)

Both women are overjoyed to learn that they are pregnant but are soon left heartbroken when their unborn daughters are diagnosed with severe illnesses that will cause them to be stillborn or die soon after birth.

As abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland no matter the circumstances, Hannah and Rosie are forced to continue with their pregnancies.

Writer Gwyneth Hughes explained that she changed all of the names of the people who generously shared their stories with her.

‘The real “Hannah” is a spirited, funny, vivid young married woman from a small town; I loved her positive attitude and the joy she managed to retrieve from her terrible ordeal,’ she said.

‘The real “Rosie” is a warm, beautiful, elegant older woman, who thought the chance of a baby had passed her by, and whose mental and physical suffering was extreme.

‘The real “Theresa” chose her daughter over the traditions of her faith, and had to find reserves of courage and endurance which almost broke her.’

The final episode of Three Families airs tonight May 11 at 9pm on BBC.

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MORE : Three Families episode 1 review: BBC drama is a powerful look at the devastating impact of criminalising abortions


MORE : What are the rules around abortion in Northern Ireland as Three Families airs on BBC One?

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