Relief and Regret: Fifty Years of Women’s Voices in British Abortion Activism
The five decades since the passage of the Abortion Act in 1967 have been marked by continuous debates about abortion laws and service provision. Nearly fifty attempts have been made in parliament to amend the Act, almost all to restrict it in some way. Outside parliament, activists have fought for and against the parliamentary attempts and simultaneously sought to move the debate onto their own terms.
In this paper I trace the way that Pro-Choice and Pro-Life activists have drawn upon women’s stories of their pregnancy decisions in order to animate what would otherwise be abstract medical and moral arguments about the desirability of abortion. It is arguably more expected that Pro-Choice, feminist activists would emphasise women’s experiences, but it is also clear that Pro-Life campaigners have drawn upon women’s voices to counteract accusations that they are telling women how to behave. Women have played a prominent role in abortion activism of all types, including making medical and moral arguments, but it is important to identify the role that women’s experiences have played in influencing public and political debate about abortion in the last fifty years.