Ann Furedi is the Chief Executive of bpas, and first met David Paintin when working as a journalist.
All women owe a debt to David Paintin for his work with parliamentarians to achieve a liberal abortion law, and with his profession to increase abortion’s acceptability and promote innovative good practice. He was one of the group from the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) that supported David Steel (now Lord Steel of Aikwood) during the parliamentary debates that resulted in the Abortion Act of 1967.
Often the story of abortion reform is couched in terms of an emerging women’s rights movement battling for sexual liberation but, while it is true that ‘free abortion on demand’ became a central demand of the Women’s Liberation Movement, that was not until the 1970s. The reforms that led to the Abortion Act 1967 were the result of work in earlier times and different ways of thinking by men and women who, like David Paintin, did not see themselves as firebrands or radicals of any description.
Many of the men who worked alongside David were of a very conservative disposition, wishing to end the increasing numbers of abortions provided outside official medical practice and limit its provision to what they saw as proper circumstances. Many of the women, more “blue-stocking” than “bra-burning”, were concerned by the inability of poverty-stricken women to raise their children responsibly.
The abortion reform movement is located by David in the traditions of public health and social responsibility, an increasing orientation of the clinical profession towards a concern with general well-being rather than simply physical infirmity, and, over recent decades, in reliance on ‘evidence’ and best practice.
David’s recently published memoirs on the struggle for abortion law reform have great value to those of us who want to understand the context in which the current law and regulations have been constructed. To influence the future we need to understand why past was as it was, and why the present is as it is. Aspects of the law that seem irrational to us today, such as the requirement for two doctors to approve a termination, were almost always introduced with specific intent. But it is important that we now question if the intentions of the sixties remain valid half a century on.
David always describes his contribution to abortion law reform as ‘modest’ – which is itself an especially modest assertion. Long before the term “reproductive choice” had even entered the lexicon, David was its Champion, and we are all grateful for his lasting contribution to abortion rights in this country.