Charter for Choice

Diane Munday, ALRA: Putting The Power Where It Rightly Belongs – Why We Need To Decriminalise Abortion

Diane Munday was the General Secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association in the 1960s which helped make the 1967 Abortion Act possible. A lifelong activist, Diane writes here about why we now need to remove abortion from the criminal law altogether.

I am both proud and appalled that, more than 50 years after I first started campaigning for women to be able to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy, I have been invited to be a Champion of Choice.

Proud because I (and the others – many sadly now dead) who struggled so long and hard for the 1967 Abortion Act to be passed and retained have not been forgotten. Appalled because Britain, having been a European pioneer in liberalising draconian laws, now lags behind most of the civilised world by placing the decision as to whether or not to become a mother in the hands of doctors and not in the hands of the pregnant woman herself.

Even when, in 1966, we were sitting on the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament with our champagne and strawberries celebrating victory after the last, long all night debate I was very aware that the job was only half done. But, little did I guess, that nearly half a century later it would remain that way. Medicine, technology and women’s rights have moved on in ways we could not have imagined but Parliament remains stuck in the past as far as this aspect of reproductive rights is concerned.

Many who now benefit from the 67 Act were not alive when the struggles for its enactment took place and some question how those fighting for “women’s rights” could have welcomed a law hampered by such restrictions. The simple answer to that question is: it was that or nothing!

I still vividly remember hours of horse trading, in stuffy, smoke filled rooms in Westminster, clause for clause, with MPs, representatives of the churches and of the medical professions trying to hammer out something that was acceptable to a majority, And I also still remember how much it hurt when later a younger generation of reformers accused us oldies of “selling women down the river”.

But now, if every woman who has had a safe, legal abortion (and it is estimated that one in three women in Britain will have an abortion during her reproductive years) would write to her MP pressing for abortion to be removed from the realm of criminal law, it would be hard for Westminster to go on ignoring the long overdue need for medically performed abortions to be controlled only in the same way as any other medical procedure.

So I welcome this wake-up initiative from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service – which I helped to found and for whom I worked for many years –in advocating the bringing of our abortion practices into the 21st century by decriminalising the voluntary ending of a pregnancy and thus putting the power where it rightly belongs – namely, in the hands of women themselves