The Pro-Life Campaign in England, 1966-1989

Olivia Dee

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis comprises a history of the pro-life movement in England, focusing on the period 1966-1989, which saw the highest concentration of pro-life activity during the twentieth century. Based on evidence from original oral history interviews, as well as significant archival research, the thesis represents the first major history of the English pro-life movement. This thesis focuses on the period 1966-1988 because of two turning points in the history of abortion in England; the 1967 Abortion Act and the Alton Bill. The 1967 Abortion Act, which legalised abortion in England, was the result of half a century of political lobbying by the Abortion Law Reform Association, a pressure group which worked constantly to force the abortion issue into Parliament. In 1988, after over twenty years of pressure from anti-abortion campaigners, David Alton MP brought a Bill before the Commons which aimed to restrict access to abortion. Despite significant support from SPUC and LIFE, the two primary pro-life groups, the Bill failed to progress through the Commons. Its collapse was perceived as a watershed moment by many pro-life campaigners, leading to (sometimes bitter) splits and divisions among pro-life campaigners. 

In considering the methods and strategies of the pro-life movement, this thesis examines the tactics deployed by campaigners in their efforts to overturn the 1967 Abortion Act. Key themes include: the influence of religion, and Christianity in particular, on attitudes towards sexuality and pregnancy; pro-life representations of women, and the female body in particular; and the varied, and often deeply contested, attitudes towards the status of the foetus articulated by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates during the years 1966-88.  Overall, the thesis contributes to historiographic debate about gender and sexuality in post-war Britain, as well as the extent of secularisation and permissiveness in the latter decades of the century. The thesis also represents an intervention into broader scholarly discussion about the relationship between the state and its citizens and the boundaries of legislative intervention into complex issues of health and welfare. 
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Moss, Stella, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2018
Publication statusIn preparation - 1 Mar 2018

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