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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These photographs were kindly provided by The Guardian Archive.