Morals and Medicine: a protest outside the RCOG in 1971

In honour of International Women’s Day, this month’s post is another fantastic find in the RCOG Archive. While sorting through a collection of press cuttings gathered by the College in the 1970s, I stumbled across a cutting showing the front of the College’s Sussex Place premises and featuring a very conspicuous group of protesters.

RCOG_N2_12_3 Protest Outside RCOG 1971
Press cuttings showing a protest outside the RCOG in 1971 by a women’s liberation group campaign for better access to family planning and abortion services. Credit: The Guardian newspaper.

This cutting from an issue of The Guardian dated 28th July 1971, reports on a pro-women’s rights demonstration outside the College. They can be seen here with placards and leaflets, many of which they stuffed through College windows. Our archive still has copies today.

Guardian photo 8
Protestors stuffing leaflets through the windows of the College in 1971. Credit: The Guardian.

Following the implementation of the Abortion Act in 1967, Women’s Liberation groups continued to look for improvements to women’s rights and access to abortion. While the article describes the RCOG as a powerful voice in the ‘anti-abortion lobby’, the College had in fact been instrumental in the establishment of the Abortion Act and continued to major play a role in securing access to family planning services and safe abortion across in the UK and worldwide.

Guardian photo 6
Protesters outside the RCOG in 1971 in favour of improving access to safe and convenient family planning and abortion services. Credit: The Guardian.

The 1971 protesters were predominantly from the Wandsworth Women’s Liberation Group. They argued in favour of the vacuum aspiration method of abortion. This method was considered by some to be faster and safer than conventional methods, as it could allow women to return home shortly afterwards – hence the use of the pithy term ‘lunchtime abortion’. The method had been introduced in the United States and was still considered new and innovative for the time.

Guardian photo 5
Protesters leaving Sussex Place after their 1971 protest. Credit: The Guardian.

The RCOG President and the Secretary of State for Health, presented by The Guardian as holding opposing views, had jointly written to the British Medical Journal in response to earlier stories about this new method. They wanted ‘further investigation’ before they could risk patient safety by supporting vacuum aspiration.

Wansworth Womens Lib letter 1971
Letter delivered to RCOG President Sir Arthur Jeffcoate on 27th July 2971 by the Wandsworth Women’s Liberation Group demonstrating their support of the vacuum aspiration method of abortion (RCOG Archive).

These photographs were kindly provided by The Guardian Archive.

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