Tag Archives: abortion act

Why David Steel’s Abortion Act means so much to me – a reflection on its 50th Anniversary

Today is an important day. We, as Liberals, need to remember that 50 years ago, on this day, the Abortion Act came into being.

Why is this important? I know many people, especially disabled people, feel a real conflict about this legislation. There are issues to consider here, not least with regard to the concept of gender selective abortion and I would urge people to look at MP voting records on this important topic.

Back in the 1960s, the oral contraceptive was still in its infancy. Abortion was illegal and many women faced the real social stigma of being pregnant and unmarried. Fortunately, attitudes have changed. However a real and profound reason for the idea of the Act was not, as many people think, convenience. In actual fact, women were dying every year, in the U.K. from illegal and unsafe abortions. I am talking about women who had few options, where access to clinics was for the rich. A young Liberal MP, David Steel, took up the challenge and the Act was drafted.

Amongst the team of civil servant legal officers was a woman in her early twenties, who would have been deeply affected by issues around women’s reproductive health. I cannot tell you what she, coming to adulthood in this era, must have experienced with her friends, but I do know that she had fellow female students who were married with children at an early age. Did she know anyone who had had to engage the services of a woman like Vera Drake, someone who did their best to help women in trouble? Did she know someone who had died or became unable to have children as the result of infection from an unsafe abortion? I don’t know.  I do know that the experience and what she learnt from drafting the legislation had a profound effect on her and she went on in life to strongly support women’s reproductive rights and health. Her views on people who wanted changes to U.K. legislation “because it felt right” were quite strong. I know she was happy to discuss it with her daughters. I know this because she was my mother.

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