As outrage about America’s Roe Vs Wade repeal continues, Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the world’s largest arts festival – is soon to host a play funded by an anti-abortion group.
The production by Parley Theatre, titled Do I?, is coming to the Fringe courtesy of funding from Life Voice, a subsidiary group of the UK based SPUC Pro-Life, which stands for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
Life Voice is an organisation offering supposedly “educational” workshops on abortion to UK secondary school students, via dramatic monologues and real-life testimonies. It markets itself as “ideal for Catholic schools”.
In May, VICE World News uncovered evidence that Life Voice is “receiving tens of thousands of dollars from anonymous US-based backers”.
And in the course of that investigation, journalist Sophia Smith Galer learned that the company was also planning to send a play to the Edinburgh Fringe.
The listing for that play – scheduled to run from August 22 – 27 at the Surgeons Hall venue run by theSpace – is now live. The listing says the play is from “Life Voice in association with Parley Theatre”. The latter describes itself as “a Christian Theatre Company based in London” on its Twitter bio.
The play’s description in the Fringe programme does not mention abortion, instead promising “a twisted and gripping dark comedy exploring coercive control and the damaging impact of an over-sexualised culture”.
In an email to HuffPost UK, Parley Theatre said the play “has nothing to do with abortion”. Instead, it is centred around teenage sexting and peer pressure.
“It follows two teenagers in the early beginnings of their dating, and their two single parents navigating their children’s challenges,” the company said.
But abortion providers have questioned why an anti-choice group is funding a play at the Fringe.
“Anti-abortion groups, like SPUC, have a long history of trying to infiltrate spaces by hiding their organisation’s true aims and beliefs,” Katherine O’Brien from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s largest provider of abortion services, tells HuffPost UK .
“On the face of it, a play addressing ‘a tangled Gen-Z web of abuse and exploitation’ might sound inoffensive, if rather hackneyed, but of course we don’t know if this is a vehicle for SPUC to use to promote their anti-abortion lies to unsuspecting audiences.
“It is ironic, given that these groups so often accuse abortion providers of hiding the truth, that nowhere on the advert for this ‘production’ does it make clear that this is being staged by an anti-choice campaign group.”
Louise McCudden, advocacy and public affairs advisor at MSI Reproductive Choices, is also shocked to see the play listed in the Fringe’s programme.
“In the UK, nine out of 10 adults are pro-choice, and one in three women will have an abortion before she is 45. The anti-choice ideology from SPUC is an extreme minority position and has neither medical nor democratic legitimacy,” she says.
“These extreme groups are completely out of step with public opinion and they have no expertise on the subjects they speak about, so it’s unclear why they would be given a spot at such a prestigious festival.
“If people want to find out about abortion or any other aspect of reproductive healthcare, we encourage them to reach out to reputable organisations so they can be sure they’re getting an impartial, fact-based, rights-based perspective.”
HuffPost UK contacted the organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, asking if they were aware of SPUC’s anti-abortion stance. We also asked for a response to the concerns raised by BPAS and MSI Reproductive Choices.
In response, a spokesperson said: “The Fringe is an open access arts festival, which means artists’ work is not programmed, curated or censored by the Society.”
Parley Theatre told us Life Voice offered funding for their play after the company has secured venue space at the festival. TheSpace was also not aware of Life Voice’s connection to SPUC.
“As a new company we need a series of funding streams to address the issue of sexting and Life Voice was simply one of those funding streams on this project,” Parley Theatre said.
“Our association with Life Voice arose from their engagement in education workshops focused on sexual responsibility, and the pressures of entering sexual relations earlier and earlier. We are open to any other organisation wishing to fund our projects.”
HuffPost UK also contacted Life Voice for a comment on this story and did not receive a response.
O’Brien does not believe Life Voice/SPUC should be pulled from the Edinburgh Fringe programme, but she does think audiences should be warned about the nature of Life Voice/SPUC’s work, before they sign up for tickets.
“Life Voice peddle scientifically inaccurate, and potentially damaging, abortion myths, suggesting that ending a pregnancy can have ‘serious and life long consequences’ for women. This is simply untrue,” she says. “We hope that SPUC and Life Voice are more upfront with their potential audience about who they really are – extreme ideologues with an indifference to truth.”
This article was amended on July 7 to include a statement from Parley Theatre, with clarification on the play’s plot and funding. The headline was also edited to reflect that Life Voice are funders of the production.