In scenes set to air over the winter, Emmerdale residents Laurel Thomas and Jai Sharma (played by Charlotte Bellamy and Chris Bisson) will find out that their unborn child has Down’s syndrome, after which Laurel will decide to have an abortion.
When the upcoming soap plot was first announced last week, it was met with a mixed response, with an open letter from Wendy O’Carroll, the founder of the charity Ups And Downs Southwest, going viral on Facebook.
“Your proposed story will further serve to encourage and confirm the opinion that ending the life of a baby just because it has Down syndrome is perfectly acceptable and understandable because maybe it would be better if fewer people ‘like them’ were in the world,” Wendy wrote in her letter.
“Have you considered for even a moment, how children and adults with Down syndrome who follow your programme will react to two of their favourite characters discovering excitedly that they are to have a baby, and then deciding to terminate the life of that child because it has Down syndrome?”
Responding to the backlash, Laura insisted she is “confident that what we’ve produced has been done in a really balanced and sensitive way”.
“We haven’t gone into this blindly,” she said (via BBC News). “We’ve spoken to as many people as we possibly can. We’ve got the research, this is based on real life, and I think people will see that.
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable at times watching it, but I hope that people will then, as they watch it, understand why we’ve done it.”
“I’m sure we’ll get some mixed reactions, I’m well aware that it’s a hugely emotive subject,” she added.
“But I do honestly think that once everyone has watched the episodes play out, they’re going to feel huge sympathy for what an impossible and difficult choice these couples face, and an understanding. And what you’ll see through Jai and Laurel’s story is how that decision goes on to affect their lives for years to come.”
The soap producer also noted that the storyline will not attempt to cast anyone as “right or wrong’, but instead is about “people taking really, really difficult decisions and that they should be allowed to do that without living in fear of being judged or shamed”.
Emmerdale bosses worked with the organisation Antenatal Results And Choices to ensure Laurel and Jai’s story is portrayed with sensitivity and accuracy.
Director Jane Fisher has said she hopes the soap could help make abortion less of a taboo subject, stating: “I think it’s really important that people can speak about it, it’s not that they must because for many people this is a very personal and painful and private experience and that’s fine, they may not want to talk about it.
“But they need to know that they can and I think at the moment we are in a situation where many people feel very reticent to talk about what’s happened to them.”