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Q: When did you first think about abortion rights?
It would have been about 1969, when I was in college, I was a schoolgirl when the Act was passed and it, to be honest it passed me by, but by the late 60s magazines like Cosmopolitan and Nova were writing articles about abortion rights and at that time I believe everything that was written about abortion rights was still couched in terms of whether we should do this, whether we shouldn’t do this, the rights of the child, all that kind of thing. I know I first started taking the pill when I was, left school. I felt very guilty – I think there was, which was also a new thing at the time, it became available I think in 1967, and I think there was a sort of guilt about allowing women to be so sort of independent in terms of their sexual lives, and that definitely had an impact on me. So I didn’t actually have a view, on abortion, I didn’t think it was right or wrong, but I didn’t really think I would want to have an abortion myself, so that’s how I was thinking at the end of the 1960s. By 1973 I’d had a child, as it happens my only child. I’d also had two miscarriages and threatened to miscarry him. But about six months after he was born, I went to the Cardiff Women’s Action Group, which was the local group of the women’s liberation movement. And people there were talking about abortion, and I explained, you know, I wasn’t very sure about this, I didn’t think I’d would have an abortion myself, and by the time the discussion had finished, and the meeting had finished, and people had addressed all the sort of concerns and laid out a lot of the facts, I came away thinking “oh right, this has got to be a choice for every woman in this world, I can’t, I’ll have to just keep fighting for that right until that’s the case.” So, you know, and that’s been my view ever since.
Q: So what was your view of the 1967 Abortion Act?
When I, once I did understand the importance of abortion in women’s lives, I also understood that there were certain limits to the 1967 Abortion Act, that you had to get two doctors to sign it, and so on, which could be quite restrictive. And also quite quickly that there was a certain postcode lottery in terms of delivering the service in various areas of the country, particularly in Cardiff, as it happens. So I understood that it was a good thing, that there would be no more backstreet abortions, no more unwanted children, because women had that choice, but there were still difficulties in the way the Act was formulated. But nevertheless it was a great step forward for women.
Q: What brought you into campaigning on the issue of abortion rights?
Ok, well two things I suppose initially would be firstly the James White bill, which was the first of a series of Private Members’ Bills that tried to overturn parts of the Act and render the Act far, far less effective for women – I didn’t do an awful lot at that time because my son was still just two, and I was breaking up a marriage and so on, so I didn’t have an awful lot of time. But I did go on my first national demonstration, to protest against the James White bill, which was a very liberating experience. And then almost about the same time, or shortly afterwards, it became very apparent that although funding had been made available in the Health Service for a day care abortion clinic in Cardiff, there was a professor at the Heath Hospital called, a professor at the Heath Hospital who was opposed to abortion and wouldn’t allow this clinic to be established there. So there was a concerted campaign locally for the next couple of years around that, involving lots of women, and men, and various organisations and so on, to try and get that, that clinic opened - which never did happen actually – but nevertheless it was very important that that campaign was waged. And then we moved very shortly after that, in the mid-70s, with the next of the Private Members’ bills, which came from a Scottish MP called William Benyon. So there was a campaign against that, though it wasn’t such a high-profile campaign as the James White, the one against the James White bill. So, that’s how it started.
Q: What organisations have you been involved in, through campaigning?
I’m not quite sure what you mean by that, actually.
Q: Through unions, political parties, student organisations?
Yeah, I mean the women’s movement was very important, and the Labour Party, particularly going into the 80s, through the women’s organisation in the Labour Party there was a lot of campaigning around abortion rights; trade unions were always regarded as particularly central, although I wasn’t a member at the time, I
wasn’t in work - students have always been important.
Q: How long were you involved in campaigning?
Whenever it’s been needed, I’ve been involved in campaigning, so in terms of the William Benyon bill then that was followed by the Corrie bill, 79-80, and thinking about 1986 there was the Alton bill, and then 87-88 there was the attempt by anti-abortionists to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which – they were trying to reduce the time limits for abortion. So I was involved in all of those campaigns, and it was only after we’d defeated the attempt to reduce the time limits, in the Stop the Amendment campaign, that actually there were no further major assaults on the 1967 Act until 2008 when there was another attempt to, there was another Human Fertilisation and Embryology type of a bill going through Parliament and again there were attempts to reduce the time limits on that. I mean there’ve been smaller attempts, to sort of try and undermine the Act, but that’s not, none of them have ever sort of reached the status where there’s, it’s been necessary to have a national campaign. So after the defeat of the anti-abortionists in the Stop the Amendment campaign, they were really on the back foot for two – for a couple of decades actually – and they again failed to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2008. And since then, a lot of focus of anti-abortionists has been on the, on abortion clinics, and protesting outside clinics, so that in Cardiff for the last five years I believe, every Lent, anti-abortionists stand outside the clinic every day, and they sort of intimidate women using the clinic. So the pro-choice movement has responded with demonstrations and petitions and just also providing a counter-presence at the clinic, a peaceful counter-presence at the clinic, to ensure that women who are using the clinic and staff who work in the clinic know there is a basis of support for them, as well. So it’s really just been ongoing over the years, but I don’t know if you want me to go into any more detail?
Q: What sort of things were you involved in?
I remember the first national demonstration over the White bill, because that was, my first national demonstration, and there was a man who I know locally, who was also on the Bill, very quietly spoken, sort of mild-mannered man, and all of a sudden he was fist-pumping, “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate” and you just got the very big sense of the liberating impact of, you know, working together and campaigning for something. In the Corrie campaign, I remember we just – we petitioned, weekly, I mean, for months, on the High Street in Cardiff, in maybe some of the localities, sometimes you would have an event where leading councillors would come, I remember during that campaign because there was huge, a huge sort of momentum around that campaign, being invited to speak at the UWIST students union, and there were sort of two hundred students turned up, you know, just huge activity around the Bill. The, the Fight the Alton Bill campaign, it was a great campaign, huge involvement of students and trade unions, Wales TUC, was centrally involved, and we had a demonstration of six hundred people through the streets of Cardiff, and a rally afterwards with Ann Clwyd speaking, who was by then an MP. And we also had a day conference during that campaign, to discuss all the issues that were raised.
If I could just stop just a moment to say that the first few attempts to challenge the 1967 Act were, all had sort of clauses within them that would really have changed the nature of the Act, to actually try and drive back the Act. By the end of Corrie, although they’d started using the time limits, then, as a potential way to stop abortion, it must have become clear to the anti-abortionists because the defeat of Corrie was huge, you know like you had a national demonstration led by you know, the TUC General Secretary, with like fifty thousand, sixty thousand people on it, you had a Woman’s Own survey that showed 80% of people supported women’s choice, and even over 50% of Catholics, that was the case, so it was a huge defeat for Corrie. So when it came to the Alton Bill campaign, that was all about reducing the time limits, because the anti-abortionists had changed tactic, because there must have been a recognition that continuing trying to just change the Act, remove the Act itself, wasn’t going to work, so this was, this was their new tactic. So when we had this day conference during the Alton Bill campaign, there was a lot of work in that about this change of tactic, and how to challenge what the anti-abortionists were up to now. I remember the doctor who came to speak was, sort of an older guy, actually, from Aberystwyth, and it was really nice that that he made, he felt so committed that he was prepared to make that journey down and speak to us all. I think it was an organisation called Doctors for Choice, that he was, he was part of. That event was supported by the Wales Labour Party Women’s Committee, which was a serious support for us as well. And also during that campaign we did a survey of all the Welsh Labour MPs, to sort of find out what their voting intentions were, and we also kept a record of how they voted when it came to the different amendments on the time limits. So that was that. The Stop the Amendment campaign was a much more difficult campaign in lots of ways because, I think maybe people thought because we defeated Alton, or because it wasn’t a direct attack on the 67 Act itself, but was actually these amendments attached to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, that somehow it just didn’t have the purchase that some of the other campaigns had. Nevertheless we still had a demonstration of over a hundred women through Cardiff, and still the involvement of the TUC, students, the Labour Party, and a couple of really good, really quite good public meetings, around that one, and although it was difficult, although it was smaller, it was so important, because the difference in the 22-week limit was just 46 votes, which actually meant that if 23 had switched the other way, that we would have lost that limit. So yes, it was a very, very important campaign, and it made sure that they couldn’t actually – yes so that was, that was a very important campaign, and once the anti-abortionists had been defeated, on the time limits, because we, although a 24-week time limit was introduced, there were various exemptions to that that made it actually still a very positive outcome for the pro-choice movement. And as I say, there wasn’t a further attempt, major attempt on the Bill until 2008. And I don’t think the anti-abortionists have, to this day, recovered to a point where they can, feel that they can do, make a major, plan a parliamentary attack on the 1967 Act. And that’s why they’ve resorted to sort of intimidating and harassing women who are using the clinics. I’ve remembered something actually, which pre-dates the White bill, and which came from the Women’s Action Group, which was a pamphlet, and it was called Abortion, Contraception and Facilities for Single Parents in Cardiff Now. And it was basically a project by the Women’s Action Group, to produce information, because there was a feeling that women didn’t necessarily know what their rights were now that the 67 Act had been passed, and - so it was a well-produced little leaflet, pamphlet, actually, a dozen pages or more, and then it was sort of distributed to sort of doctors’ surgeries etcetera where they would have them, and so on, so that was really the first thing that I did in terms of abortion.
Q. What sort of date would that have been?
I think it was 1974, it was before the White bill, it might have been 75, but it wouldn’t have been – it might have been 75.
Q. What kind of people have you met through the pro-choice movement?
Lots of women, who were sort of – keen to defend women’s choice in, on abortion – certainly some Irish women, it was very instructive, back in the 70s, to meet Irish women, because of course the 1967 Act wasn’t law in Northern Ireland, so both in the North and the South of Ireland, in the South because of the problems with the Catholic Church, at that time, and its influence in Irish politics, there was no sort of legal abortion provision for women, so many Irish women were still having to come to Britain to access abortion, and it was a very big issue for Irish women living here, and they would make, you know, their contributions to the campaign, I think it was always very much a sort of, a conscious, it was always very much a fact we were very conscious of in the pro-choice movement, that this Act had not been extended to Northern Ireland. I just think many, many really talented, dynamic, concerned women, over the years, you know, and men, actually, some very supportive men. So, I don’t really want to single people out – maybe – there was a woman called - who’s passed away now, and, she used to be a pharmacist, and she was working as a pharmacist during the 1950s and 60s, and she was very - because of that position, where she worked in a hospital, she was very familiar with women being brought into hospital, having been to the backstreet, and you know, had septic abortions, so her contributions on that were very strong and very moving. And I remember at one Wales Labour Party conference, SPUC had a stall, and I don’t think we could get the stall removed, but they did have one of those horrible foetuses that they tend to parade around the place, and, on the stall, and Maurita was absolutely exercised by that, and she was quite an influential woman in the Labour Party, and she made sure that was taken away. It’s always been great to have young women come on board …
Q. So how did you communicate with one another? In the campaign.
Well, I suppose by letters, by phone calls – I didn’t even have a phone at home, a lot of this time – so you’d be going to phone boxes – meetings were very important, in some of the big campaigns like sort of Corrie and Alton you’d meet every week, just to make sure that you were up to speed with everything that was happening. Yeah.
Q. Looking back what sort of difference do you think the campaigning made?
I think it’s made a huge difference, I think it’s made, made sure that women can access safe, free and legal abortions on the NHS in this country, notwithstanding the difficulties in some areas, which still have to be overcome, geographical areas, now, that still have to be overcome. I know I was looking at an old paper the other day and it was pointing out that in 1966 thirty women had died from backstreet abortions – well if the same figure had been true for all the years that the Act’s been in place that would mean an awful lot of women would have died. And the same figures showed more than two and a half thousand women each year being hospitalised with septic abortions and damaged by those, and if you take that into account over fifty years as well, plus the whole phenomenon of unwanted children, the fact that before the Act women had to bear children sometimes whether they wanted them or not, and many children were put up for adoption because the mothers weren’t married and all this kind of thing, so I think it is a huge, huge impact, so sort of – it’s - but you know, it means women can sort of make choices about their lives that are good for them, good for you know, the people around them, any children that they do choose to have, and so on, so I think it’s been huge.
Q. Are you still involved, are you aware of how things stand now?
I am still involved, yeah. I’m not any kind of expert, but, on the legal side of things, I don’t know where we are politically, in terms of what would be possible in terms of positive legislation, I know that many times over the years the pro-choice movement has sought to move positive legislation so that needing two doctors, for example, to sort of sign you off, to have an abortion, wouldn’t any longer be necessary. That’s never been politically possible. I think Jo Richardson, who, again, somebody who’s passed away, but when she was an MP in the 70s and 80s she worked enormously hard in, you know, all the campaigns to defend the Act, and beyond that she made, she personally made moves in the House of Commons to put a Private Member’s Bill that would be more positive in developing the legislation, but that proved to be impossible. And Jo was incredible, because even when she was quite old and actually very disabled with arthritis, she would still definitely be there whenever, you know, pro-choice campaigning was needed. I can’t remember what the question was, now?
Q. Are you aware of how things stand now?
Yeah. We still have a difficulty in Cardiff, we still – the abortion provision on the NHS in Cardiff is still very low compared to other areas. And it’s been like that in Cardiff pretty much throughout the existence of the Act. And it’s something that the Abortion Rights Group in Cardiff has tried to, to address, there’s been a cross-party meeting of Assembly Members, and we’ve raised issues with the Health Authority, so that’s something that’s ongoing, and we’re very mindful of the effect of 40 Days for Life, and SPUC, and their protests at the clinics, the clinic in the British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic in Cardiff, and you know, and organising to ensure that women feel safe coming to the clinic for abortions. So yes I am still involved and … I think, going back to the question about which organisations was I involved in, I was always involved in NAC, the National Abortion Campaign, which was active from 1975 through to 2003, when NAC disbanded, and the Abortion Law Reform Association, which had been the pressure group that most strongly prior to the 1967 Act being enacted, and NAC came together to form a new organisation which was called Abortion Rights. And during the years NAC, NAC established the campaign against Corrie, the Fight the Alton Bill campaign, the FAB campaign, and the Stop the Amendment campaign. Because NAC’s basic position was, free abortion on demand, a woman’s right to choose. And not all people who are pro-choice would necessarily take that position, so, but they might support the existing, the provisions of the 67 Act. So when it was under attack, by the anti-abortionists, you could get wider sort of a group of people involved in say campaigning against Corrie than actually being, sort of a member of NAC, so those are the different campaigns that came off over the years, different organisations, and yeah.
Q. What impact did the 1967 Abortion Act have on your life?
OK. Well, it just meant that you became much more conscious of how these things, how women’s reproductive rights, are legislated for, around the world, how say churches, faiths, can have an impact on sort of women’s choice in these matters, in that general sense, yes, And that’s still very much, that’s still very much the situation. In terms of my own life, it’s meant at various times working enormously hard to sort of defend the 67 Act, and there is one situation during the Stop the Amendment campaign, I think my son was sixteen, maybe, so I was a single parent, low-paid job, and we lived on the breadline most of the time, and at one point the Stop the Amendment campaign needed some money for something, and I gave fifty pounds. And shortly after that my cooker broke, our cooker broke down, say about December, the cooker broke down, and that campaign as I said before was a difficult campaign, there weren’t so many people involved, if we did raise money it was sort of used straight away, for the next meeting, demonstration or whatever, or mailings, because you had to do mailings then because it was before the advent of the internet and email and so on, and I think it was about May, about April, no maybe about April, the local NALGO branch made a donation of a hundred and fifty pounds, and it was only then that I was able to buy a new second-hand cooker. So we’d gone, we went the whole winter without a cooker. And it was a very interesting point because several years later, I would say eight-nine years later, when my son was sharing a house with some other young people, I got a call late one night, to say oh, you know, that one of the women had just confided in him that she was pregnant, and that she was very late in her pregnancy, but she wanted an abortion, I’m not sure what, she was about 18-20 weeks, or something like this, and she’d realised that she didn’t actually want to go ahead with this pregnancy, and so my son was really wanting to know who she should contact, and so on and so forth. But I was able to say to him then, you know when we didn’t have the cooker, that’s what that campaign was about, it was about making sure that women in the situation that your friend was in could still have abortions. Because that’s exactly the kind of people that would be affected if the time limit was brought down. Young women, and sort of … women on the menopause, and so on, you know, that actually, your awareness of the implications of everything is not necessarily going to make itself felt straight away. You might not even be aware that you are pregnant straight away, and by the time that you get round to sort of wanting to make your choice, it can be quite late on. So yeah, that was, there was sweet justice in that one there I think, so yeah, so it affects you in lots of different ways, I think, yes.

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