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Disgrifiad

Trawsgrifiad:

My name is Bronwen Davies - just to say a little bit about myself, oh dear I am now 66 yrs old. I’m somebody who has been involved in campaigning for a women’s right to abortion since some time in the 1970’s when I was in my twenties – so not throughout that time but certainly for several years between the ages of mid to late twenties and my early thirties and then again much more recently in the last 4/ 5 years.

Question - What was your view of the 1967 Abortion Act?

Um, well I thought - you said what was it? I thought it was the right thing I suppose that women should be able to have an abortion if they had an unwanted pregnancy so therefore I was in support of the 1967 Act, I think I probably first I don’t remember when it was enacted, I was what, 16 at that time and I don’t think it would have, it didn’t enter my awareness at the time. But as I say I was in my mid to late twenties after I moved to Cardiff which was in 1974. I think I was well, I was quite, very politically active as a socialist at that time. I think that I became aware that the 1967 Abortion Act was under threat from anti-abortionists who were trying through parliament to um, I don’t think it was outright repeal of the act, but to drastically tighten up so that fewer women were eligible, I mean they were anti-abortion I suppose. I don’t think there was any direct repeal bill but there were a succession of bills from 1975 onwards that were aimed at reducing women’s eligibility. One of the big things I remember was people arguing that the time limits were needed to be reduced. You could have an abortion in those days up to 28 weeks of pregnancy and that has since been reduced to, I think except in very exceptional circumstances such as intra foetal death the time limit these days is 24 weeks. But um a lot of people who are anti-abortion would argue that ‘oh the time limit should be a lot less’, And I remember those arguments quite vividly um they’re quite difficult arguments I think. Because it sounds so reasonable to say ‘well early on in pregnancy you could argue that the foetus is you know not by any means fully formed and that later in pregnancy possibly the foetus can feel pain and distress. We’ve no real way of knowing and so that argument about reducing the time limits can be very seductive but over the years I have become clearer and clearer in my own mind that it should be the woman herself who makes that decision and only the woman herself in consultation with a partner, friends, family, doctors whoever. I mean she has to consult a doctor but whoever else she chooses but it’s not for anyone else to tell her what decision she should make regardless of how many weeks pregnant she is.

Question -So what brought you into campaigning in the first place?

Well as I said already, I was a socialist, I became aware that there were attacks being made on the 1967 legislation and I became involved. I’m quite sure well I’m not quite sure when it was, I think it was 1975 it may have been earlier. I’ve certainly found a document that relates to sometime in September 1975 where I’d arranged to meet a doctor who worked at the UHW and he’d done research about, in UHW in that hospital research, about the factors that affected how many weeks pregnant a woman was when she had what they called a therapeutic termination i.e. one that was not a spontaneous miscarriage an abortion in other words and he was very much in support of a woman’s right to choose. I was meeting with him to talk about his research and how it could be used so, I know I must have been involved before Sept 1975. I can’t remember exactly when but that would fit with the fact that the James White bill was put before - one of the bills that was attacking the 1967 act was put before parliament at about that time.

Question - So what sort of organisations were you involved with?

Umm, well the organisation that I remember meeting with other women who were keen to defend the 1967 Act and extend access to abortion on the NHS for women in Cardiff. The prime organisation I remember was Cardiff Women’s Action Group, I think that was what it was called. it met in Charles St and it attracted, women who were feminists from quite a wide range of political backgrounds, such as some of the women were also members of the labour party at that time, some of the women were not in a political group. Some of the women were in political groups not parties that were too small but I guess what we had in common was a concern, we were feminists we were concerned with women’s rights defending and extending them. And I mentioned the attacks that were going on in parliament but what concerned me then and has continued to concern me is the fact that Cardiff was one of the places in the UK where it was extremely difficult to get an abortion and extremely difficult to get one on the NHS. And there had been some work that had been going on prior to the time when I came to Cardiff I think from 1972/3 to establish facilities for day care abortions on the NHS and although money was put aside in 1973 for that purpose by the Welsh hospital board it wasn’t in fact used there was no appointments made, no equipment was bought. And this had already I think in 1975 been a cause of concern to feminists in Cardiff and it had been and to others who supported a woman’s right to choose. It had been taken up through the Community Health Council and people tried to bring pressure to bear on the area health authority and the doctors in secondary services in theHeath to make abortion more freely available. And that local campaign has really run alongside activities in Cardiff that were concerned with more national campaigns and um yes that’s what I remember and I now can’t remember what your question was, sorry.
Question - How long were you involved?

Um, well as I say from at least 1975 until 1982 I was very actively involved with a group that was set up called Cardiff Abortion Campaign which was separate then from the Women’s Action Group. It was specifically campaigning around abortion after the National Abortion Campaign which was set up the Cardiff group saw itself as a branch of the National Abortion Campaign and we attended their conferences and organised in support of national demonstrations and days of action. I also, I mean I remember being involved and going on one campaign when my son was small which must have been in about 1990 but that was a bit of a one off for me I think by that time I had stopped being particularly politically active. I was working fulltime and had had the first of my two children and then I really wasn’t, I’m saying, I wasn’t active but I was a member of the Abortion Law Reform Association nationally so I paid my subscriptions and I kept abreast of developments through their newsletter through the years in which I wasn’t really active myself. And then I became much more involved again in 2013 where recently when anti-abortionists suddenly turned up outside the BPAS clinic in St Marys St in Cardiff. And myself and a lot of other women were very, very angry that they should be praying to end abortion outside a clinic where they knew that women who were vulnerable and distressed were going to seek medical advice as they are entitled to do. And the anti-abortionists 40DFL (forty days for life) said they were going to be there for 12 hours a day for 40 days from February up until Lent in 2013. And there were big demonstrations when the clinic was shut, I as it happened couldn’t get to those for several successive weekends but equally I couldn’t sit at home doing nothing and I was lucky to be working in a job at that point which was fulltime but around which I had a lot of flexibility regarding when I did my hours. I was primarily working from home and I realised I could take, easily take either a morning or afternoon each week to go down and demonstrate in support of a woman’s right to choose. So that’s what I did and that was an intensely interesting experience, well it was an amazing experience, I was very nervous about doing it but it was – I got a lot of support both from the clinic and from passers-by and so it felt a very worthwhile thing to do and after that at the end of Lent a lot of us came together and had a meeting and set up ARC (Abortion Rights Cardiff) because the anti-abortionists had already said they would come back again and do it again in the Autumn and we were determined we were not just going to let them do that without organising as best we could ……..to show that the majority of people in this country are in support of a woman’s right to choose and don’t agree with what they were doing. So that’s my more recent involvement I think you’d asked an earlier question about what organisations I had been involved in and I think I talked about the Women’s Cardiff Action Group. But I’m also remembering I was very active – I’ve been a trade unionist all my life, but I was very active in the trade union in the 1970’s and 1980’s in when I came to Cardiff in 1974 I was working in local government and was in NALGO but I switched careers in 1978 and was in, well started training as a nurse and so I switched to the Confederation of Health Employees and I was active in both of those unions arguing in support of a woman’s right to choose.

And I saw that was a very important part of what unions should be doing if women don’t have control of over their bodies and their fertility they really don’t have control over their lives at all therefore interesting arguments as well

Question - Are there any particular events or campaigns that you would want to remember?

Well I’ve been reminded as part of having become involved in the Safe and Legal project that I’ve been making an effort to collect together such documents as I have – I keep finding more squirreled away in different places so I keep thinking that’s it I’ve got them all together in one place and then look in a file or a box and I’m one of those people that hoards things and I keep finding more. One of the things I knew I had was a newspaper cutting relating to a street theatre performance we put on the steps of the Welsh Office in 1982 and one of the very interesting things, I wasn’t in the street theatre performance myself but I was one of the people who were part of the group who thought of the idea – it was in support of a day of action that had been called by the abortion support campaign. And we decided that rather than try and call a big demonstration or a march which was something we had done quite a lot of particularly in relation to, agitating for the facilities to be made available in the local hospitals for women to have NHS abortions rather than having to travel to Leamington Spa or Birmingham to go the BPAS clinic there.
We had organised big demonstrations,this time we decided that we would focus on doing something different and we – I don’t remember if, it probably wasn’t one person’s idea it was a collective decision we were going to do street theatre and my role was to prepare the press release and talk to the press if they turned up. Someone else was narrating as I remember and there were five main actors which was someone dressed as a bishop representing the church, who was pulling the strings of somebody dressed in a bowler hat who was representing the DHSS, which was the body that we were demonstrating against as it were at the Welsh Office. The bowler hatted man was pulling the strings of a judge and the judge was hitting a couple of doctors over the head with a mallet. Laughs…
All this was being acted out someone was explaining to the audience what was going on. Whats happened in the process of collecting documents together for this project was that I laid hands again on that newspaper cutting and read up when it was February 1982 and what it was about all of which got lost in the mists of time and I contacted some of the other women in the photograph who were very recognisable only one of whom was, is somebody we no longer had contact with the others we do have contact with and one of them turned up with three more photos that she’d taken of us getting ready in the Women’s Centre and then processing from the Women’s Centre which was in Cathays across Cardiff over the railway bridge and down to the Welsh Office the Temple of Peace and Cathays Park and it just brought just so much of those good memories back I think and I look back and think it was an amazing, bold thing to do. But as I say we did a lot more than that we organised petitions and marches about local and national events but I had largely forgotten the detail until I started looking at some of the things that are still around.

Question - What kind of people have you met through the pro-choice movement

(Pause) … - well I suppose a very wide range of people I’ve made really good lasting friendships with a lot of women. I’ve gone to see people who I might not otherwise have gone to see the one that springs to mind most recently was my MP last year who was a Tory MP who I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to see about any other issue but I decided I must go and talk to him about the fact that 40 DFL were harassing women on the streets of Cardiff who were going to the BPAS clinic. And so I wrote to him in the first instance and he sent a letter back that said if I wanted to discuss the matter in more detail do make an appointment and so I did, and to my utter astonishment he was completely in support of the pro-choice position and thought it was very wrong whatever your beliefs to be demonstrating outside a clinic, so that was a very pleasant surprise. But I’ve also met of course some rather unpleasant people on the picket line, very unpleasant people. So, I don’t know, I think, a wide group of people you would have to say, a wide range

Question - How did you communicate with one another when you were campaigning?

We I suppose that’s one of the things that’s very different from, between 1970/1980 and now. In the 70’s and 80’s I remember as I say meeting the in Charles St with the Women’s Action Group and then after that in the Women’s Centre in Cathays – Oh no! sorry, at one point, just forgotten I think we met upstairs at 108 bookshop we certainly used 108 bookshop as a postal address because some of the leaflets that we produced gave that as a postal address and then maybe after 108 closed we used the Womens Centre. Of course the thing we didn’t have was any digital media so communication was slower. We did have actually have to meet in person apart from making telephone calls but as a group we did have to meet in person and the national conferences were very important because they were the only way really of having discussions with women outside your immediate geographical area and we also had newsletters that came out from the National Abortion Campaign and we produced leaflets for distribution locally.

We also at one point had a video that we took round to show different groups. But although we found a reference to the video in the minutes none of us can remember what the video actually was, which is a bit of a shame but I’ve got a suspicion it was one that was not made by or about us but would be one that it was one we bought a copy of so that we could take it round but we haven’t, I really don’t remember – yea.

Question - Now looking back what sort of difference do you think your campaigning made?

Um well I think we’ve been successful I mean not in the sense that we’ve succeeded in extending abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland, not in the sense that we have succeeded in decriminalising abortion, women still have to get the approval of two doctors in order to have an abortion which many people these days agree is unnecessary it’s not something that would be the case with any other medical or surgical procedure. Unless you wanted a second opinion so its archaic and we did defend the 1967 act from being substantially altered with the exception of the reduction in time limit from 28 to 24 weeks which was done. I think I’m right in saying in the 1990’s at the point where people recognised that medical science had developed since 1967 and that pre-term babies could survive from a much younger gestational age than previously whether they survived in great numbers or whether they survived with a good quality of life was another question. But the fact is that babies born at 26 weeks can sometimes survive these days so I think we’ve done amazing well and I think the fact that now 80%, over 80% of the population does support a woman’s right to choose abortion is because feminists like me have been standing up and saying so for so many years – at a time when it wasn’t so universally accepted at all, um can’t remember again what the question was now…… sorry
Question - what was the difference ?

..... made a difference , not enough there are still things left to be done in this country I don’t think abortion, I don’t think the 1861 act that makes abortion a criminal act and is punishable by life imprisonment should be repealed and I know that labour MP introduced such a bill under the ten minute rule under the last government and I hope very much it will be a feature of a future Labour government more importantly or the two do go together I suppose. If abortion is no longer a criminal act. The 1967 act should be extended to women in NI I think it’s disgraceful that women in NI should have their rights traded off by cynical political parties, ts grotesquely unfair that women in NI don’t have the same rights as women elsewhere in the UK and that’s leaving aside the question of abortion rights worldwide because of course relatively speaking we are lucky in this country in that it is possible to get a safe and legal abortion for most women who want one, not all, but there are many countries where that is not possible so really we’ve got a long way to go…

Question - what impact did the 1967 abortion act have on your life?

Um that’s a good question, when I started campaigning I know that I very much saw the whole issue as something that didn’t directly affect me as far I knew I’d never had an unwanted pregnancy. I say that it probably sounds a bit odd but I am aware that for a lot of women a first pregnancy can end in a spontaneous miscarriage and that some people that is so common as to be almost universal but I had never thought I was pregnant despite being sexually active so I sort of thought no I didn’t think I never would be.
I suppose I thought it could not happen and apply to me and then in 1977 I did find I was pregnant when I had no wish to be and it was a terrible shock, a really, really terrible shock. Once I finally realised I was pregnant I realised I had been pregnant for quite a while but not recognising the symptoms and the thing that stands out to me is going out drinking with a group of friends and comrades who I quite commonly went out with and asking for a fruit juice instead of a pint of beer which is what I would normally have had and the man I was with joking ‘ oh you’re not pregnant are you’. And I hadn’t realised that going off beer or going off certain things was a symptom of pregnancy until that point and when I realised I think that was the first point where I thought oh my goodness I might perhaps I am. In those days you had to go to you GP to have a pregnancy confirmed so I did and it was confirmed and I knew that I didn’t want to go ahead with it. The man who was the father was somebody whom I cared about very much but he had a real alcohol problem and I didn’t see that changing or at least not changing any time soon. And I just couldn’t imagine how my life, how my life could possibly work if I had a child to look after it didn’t seem a responsible or realistic thing to allow the pregnancy to continue so I asked the GP if I could have an abortion and she laughed at me and said ‘oh no’ she didn’t think so I was a perfectly healthy young woman and there was no reason why I couldn’t have this baby and sent me on my way.

And of course because I’d been involved in campaigning I did know that BPAS had a clinic in Cardiff so I knew that there was an alternative. However she hadn’t told me that there was any alternative, she didn’t refer me to anyone else so she was not acting in line with her professional code of conduct I was really, really very shocked about that and very upset. I made an appointment to go the BPAS and I think part of the reason I feel so very strongly about the anti-abortionists standing outside praying to end abortion outside the clinic is because I still remember walking in , getting the bus into town and walking through the city centre to find the clinic and feeling that everybody was looking at me, everybody knew why I was there. A lot of people would judge me and I didn’t feel confident that whoever I saw at BPAS wouldn’t simply laugh at me like the GP had done. I now know, of course that that wasn’t going to happen – I didn’t know it then.

I was 26 you know I wasn’t young, I was in many ways, I would have been seen as a confident, competent young woman I didn’t feel like it and I’ve umm I’m realising talking about it – it was the most hideous experience. And of course when I got BPAS I was treated with extreme kindness and compassion and given time to talk about my very conflicted feelings and time to think about what decision I wanted to make. And when I said that, no, I was sure I did not want to go ahead with the pregnancy I had to travel to Leamington Spa, as I remember, and stay a couple of nights to have an abortion and it had the most profound effect on me and my life. And I would say it made me the person I am today, because after that I realised that all sorts of things, it sounds really stupid to say now but it is true I hadn’t realised until the age of 26 how much agency I had in my life and how important it was to have that agency and that if I didn’t make decisions things would happen to me whether I wanted them to or not. Being enabled to make that decision, to being able to think about how I felt and what I thought by sitting with the counsellor and then be able to make my decision had a really profound effect. And umm I wasn’t very happy in my work at that point in local government and it was after a few months after that point that that I realised that I could do something about that. I could leave that job and look for another job and that was how I came to go into nursing.

So the 1967 abortion act has been very, very significant in my life… pause

Question - is there anything else you want to add to that?

Umm no I don’t think that there is, I mean there’s lots of things that I can talk about, I’ve remembered something else that we did when we were campaigning which I’d quite like to mention because I don’t think there is any record of it anywhere but it was really significant at the time, I don’t remember exactly when it was but sometime I would guess between 1977 1982 that five year period where we had the succession of bills that were attempting to attack the 1967 act and it was very much in the news it was probably part of the campaign against the Corrie bill which I think was 1979 I think it was the year after I started nursing and Cardiff Abortion Campaign were approached by a researcher from the BBC television programme Week in Week Out which was then hosted by someone called Vincent Kane and asked if we would be able to, could we, did we have someone who could was prepared to go on television and argue in support of a woman’s right to choose and we all thought we should do it and none of us were very keen so I said I’d do it and that was quite an astounding experience. Really it was very terrifying it wasn’t something I’d ever done before and umm I don’t think I ever saw a copy of it – they said they would give me a video but they didn’t and like a fool I didn’t push them and follow it up I’m sure I could have got one at the time but I never did I just regarded that as done and dusted but apparently I did come over very strongly and very well and the thing I remember very vividly is going shopping in Albany Road the following day and being stopped by a women in the supermarket who said ‘ are you that woman that was on the television’ and I said yes and she said ‘well done you were great’ laughs….so that was a particularly good moment and having talked about Albany Road and I can’t remember the supermarket that was down there at the time they’ve all changed – I remember another incident we did commonly collect petitions in support of our campaign to get NHS facilities up at the Heath hospital and other things giving out leaflets both in Cowbridge road and Albany road shopping centres and I remember on one occasion the Society for the Protection of the Unborn child SPUC which had a local branch which was very active is the core of that group is still behind the anti-abortionist activities in Cardiff these days but they had, they were outside a church on Albany Road with these horrible blown up pictures of foetuses and going on about killing the unborn child and I was so enraged I marched over the road and took them off the railings and jumped on them.
Laughs… I’m not sure I would do that now but I was I think it a perfectly legitimate thing to do they weren’t very happy.

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