Semi-legal operation

Protest in favour of free abortion in 1971Image copyright

Diane Munday had an abortion in 1961, six years before the Abortion Act – now 50 years old – made abortion legal in Britain. While she could afford a Harley Street operation, she knew her neighbours were facing backstreet procedures with knitting needles. Here she explains how this inspired a life-long campaign for reform.

It wasn’t until I was about 21 years old that I first heard the word “abortion.”

In those days you had clothes made by a dressmaker and a local young married woman was making me a party dress; I went to her house for fittings. She had three young children and lived in a small post-war prefab house. I remember a very happy family. The father worked in a local factory and the children went to dancing lessons.

One day when I came home from work – I was a research assistant at Barts Hospital – my mother told me the dressmaker had died. I discovered she had had a backstreet abortion that went wrong. I hadn’t heard of this before – probably because the word was considered unmentionable. At that time a pregnant woman having an abortion and anyone who helped her could go to prison for it.


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