The BBC is to make broadcasting history by producing a two-hour show live from an abortion clinic in which it hopes to air the views of patients and staff working in a sector that has been surrounded in renewed controversy.
The BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Victoria Derbyshire will host an edition of her show from an as yet unnamed clinic next month and carry out interviews with women who are undergoing pregnancy terminations, as well as doctors, counsellors and junior members of the clinic's staff. After a period of negotiation the clinic has consented to the programme and is likely to be identified.
The show is likely to attract controversy both because of the polarising nature of the subject matter and the fact that the Department of Health is investigating issues highlighted by undercover newspaper reporters who recently filmed doctors agreeing to carry out terminations apparently on the basis of the gender of the unborn babies.
The broadcast comes as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Britain's largest provider of abortion services, finds itself the victim of thousands of attempts to hack into its computers.
Speaking to The Independent, Derbyshire said: "We have asked an abortion clinic for permission to broadcast and they have agreed. We appreciate the sensitivity around it and I would hope listeners would trust us to do it carefully." She said she believed the programme to be unprecedented and said it would "give us an insight into an area of British life which is taboo".
Britain's abortion clinics have felt themselves under attack since February when reporters from The Daily Telegraph accompanied pregnant women into clinics and filmed doctors agreeing to terminations after they were told the mother did not want the baby because of its gender. Derbyshire said the BBC's decision to make the programme was linked to the controversy and the claims that, although the sector is regulated, "some people weren't following those rules". She said: "[The clinics] were all very nervous because of that undercover investigation. We have visited the clinic and explained exactly what we wanted to do."
The BBC recognises the extreme sensitivity of the subject matter in its own ethical guidelines. "It's one of the most polarising moral issues – most people are on one side or the other, very few are undecided", the guidelines note.
Derbyshire stressed it was not the purpose of the programme to weigh the respective merits of the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" arguments. "The pro and anti view is well known," she said. "Our point on that day is to bring new insights into areas of British life.
"What we want to do is talk to everybody involved who works in a clinic – the receptionist, the doctors, the consultants, the counsellors, and, if patients agree, we will talk to them."