Mixed Feelings: Ten Women Talk About Their Own Experience of Pregnancy and Abortion (1980)
This source, Mixed Feelings: Ten Women Talk About Their Own Experience of Pregnancy and Abortion, was produced by the Brent Against Corrie Pamphlet Group in January 1980. It includes first-hand accounts from a number of women who had had an abortion, or were considering having an abortion during the 1970s.
The Brent Against Corrie Pamphlet Group was part of the broader National Abortion Campaign (NAC) in the UK, which was founded in 1975 with a central demand of access to free and safe abortions for all women. Indeed, this particular pamphlet was among many different publications at the time, campaigning against the 1979 Corrie Bill, which was put forward by Conservative MP John Corrie. The bill attempted to reduce the time limit of an abortion from 24 weeks under the 1967 Abortion Act, to 20 weeks. It also proposed a restriction for the grounds of the procedure, so that a woman seeking abortion would have had to prove her life was in ‘grave danger’, or that there was a ‘substantial’ risk of ‘serious’ injury to her mental or physical health. There was considerable opposition to the Corrie Bill, particularly amongst those involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM), and the NAC organised a mass demonstration against the bill in London on 28 October 1979, in which it is estimated that between 45,000 and 60,000 people marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. In March 1980, the Corrie Bill was defeated, however the fight for access to free and safe abortions was far from over.
Many of the women included in the pamphlet talk about their interactions with doctors in various medical institutions throughout the abortion procedure. Some women, such as Maggy, Jane, and Jill, point out that the doctors they encountered were especially preoccupied about the contraception that they were using at the time. As Maggy recalls, ‘I felt at fault for being pregnant’, while Liz also explains how she was seen as ‘irresponsible’ for getting pregnant. As well as this, Jill’s account highlights her doctor’s attitude towards giving her an abortion, saying that ‘he made it clear, though, that he would not be happy about repeating the favour [of abortion] were I to become pregnant again.’ Although we cannot be sure, it appears that Josephine is the only black women out of the ten featured in the pamphlet. Albeit minor, the inclusion of Josephine’s experiences emphasises the differences within the feminist movement in terms of attitudes towards campaigns for abortion. She remarks that ‘a lot of black people see abortion as a white thing’, and briefly outlines how she was subject to both sexism and racism, adding a crucial perspective to this pamphlet, given the mostly white nature of the WLM.
Overall the pamphlet is informative, allowing us to gain an insight into the ways in which different women were treated, and the advice given to them, upon seeking an abortion. It is an extremely useful source for anyone looking at the history of the reproductive rights movement as a whole, or at the various campaigns of the WLM in the ‘second-wave’ of feminism.
Looking for more sources?
Elsewhere, other contemporary sources regarding the topic of abortion, and other feminist campaigns can be found online. The Spare Rib archive includes a plethora of articles, while the Feminist Review has both contemporary journal articles, and more recent academic works on the subject. As well as this, the Wellcome Library has a large digital collection of sources and posters about abortion.
For the wider historiographical debate surrounding abortion and reproductive rights in ‘second-wave’ feminism, see historians such as Jennifer Nelson, Stephen Brooke, Wendy Kline, and Natalie Thomlinson.
Written by Kezia Pugh