Fifty years ago, the Abortion Act 1967 made it legal for a woman in Britain to terminate a pregnancy. Since then, attitudes have been transformed, with one woman in three now predicted to have a termination during her lifetime.
Yet abortion remains an emotive, rarely discussed subject.
Here, five women who have had abortions bravely tell their stories.
DUE DATE I CAN NEVER FORGET
Rosie Martin, 55, is an accountant. She lives in Norfolk and is married with three children. She says:
Rosie Martin (pictured), 55, had an abortion whilst going through a divorce with her first husband. She says she still wonders what could’ve been
Each year, when July 6 comes around, I can’t help but think about the baby I aborted in 1992. That was my due date and he or she would be 25 now, so I find myself wondering what that child would have been like. Deep down I know the decision I made was right for me at the time, but still it breaks my heart.
I was in a really bad place when I had the abortion. My first husband had walked out on me and our two children, both under five, and I was in the middle of a painful divorce. I met another man who was simply wonderful and I really loved him, but I got pregnant very quickly and I knew having a child wouldn’t be fair on either of us.
I told my mum, who agreed completely. In fact, she paid for me to have the abortion.
It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. Seven years previously, I’d lost a much-wanted baby and was put in the same ward as women who were there to have an abortion. I was so judgmental at that point, thinking they were pure evil. But when I found myself with an unwanted pregnancy, I learnt an important lesson: you never know what’s around the corner in your life and should never pass judgment on others.
I went to a private clinic and they treated me dreadfully. I was just another woman who wanted to get rid of a baby and they showed no compassion at all.
I hadn’t told my partner what I was doing. I didn’t want his reaction to sway my decision, although he found out afterwards and that spelt the end of our relationship. But I hadn’t lied, I’d simply not told him. I just knew I couldn’t add a baby to our situation.
After the operation, I was very tired and a good friend picked me up, took me home and looked after me.
I’m lucky because I had another baby with my new husband three years later. I didn’t tell him about the abortion. My children don’t know either, but if they find out now I’ve admitted it, I’ll be honest with them. It’s not exactly something I’ve tried to hide.
But that third pregnancy reminded me of the baby I’d aborted. While I know I could never have coped with three young children at the time, I will always wonder what might have been.
IT TOOK YEARS TO FORGIVE MYSELF
Maria Madalena, 57, is a performance artist and complementary therapist. She is married to Robert, 56, a musician, and the couple live in North Wales and have five children aged 19 to 29. She says:
Maria Madalena (pictured), 57, had an abortion at the age of 20 as she wasn’t in a committed long-term relationship
I was 20 in 1981 and on a youth orchestra tour in Cyprus when I realised I might be pregnant. I kept being sick but it was only when I returned to London, where I was studying music, that I realised what had happened.
I’d come off the Pill after a relationship ended, had met Robert — now my husband — and we’d got carried away. But a baby was the last thing we needed.
We were very young and not yet committed to a long-term relationship, so I knew I had to end the pregnancy. I went to see my welfare officer at university, who agreed it was the best thing.
I told Robert, but I didn’t want to put any pressure on him to ‘do the right thing’, so I went to the hospital by myself for the termination.
It was the same hospital where I’d been born. My mother had got pregnant with me out of wedlock but had gone ahead with the pregnancy and married my father. For a few years after my abortion, I carried some guilt that she had given her baby — me — a chance and I hadn’t done the same.
I was in a lot of pain afterwards and had to return the following day for another, more painful operation to remove what was left from the pregnancy. I suffered a lot of bleeding and felt completely judged throughout the entire process by the male consultants, who looked at me as if I was some sort of ‘silly girl’. The female medics were much more sympathetic.
I believe abortions can drive a wedge into some relationships, but each situation is unique and I’d never judge anyone else
Robert was very understanding and supportive and we continued to see each other. Six years later, I was still with Robert and I had a miscarriage, which was devastating. I have no religious background but I felt I was being punished in some way.
Thankfully, we went on to have our first son in 1988 and married that same year. We have been blessed with four more children over the years.
But the baby I aborted has never left my thoughts. I recall once walking down the road with my son’s pushchair, looking at his tiny form and thinking: ‘How could I have got rid of my baby?’
The abortion had an impact on mine and Robert’s relationship, too. We have sometimes cried together over that decision, but ultimately we went on to have five beautiful children and we’re happy and thankful.
I believe abortions can drive a wedge into some relationships, but each situation is unique and I’d never judge anyone else.
It took me a long time to forgive myself and there are still times when I find it hard. I’ve no idea if that baby was a boy or a girl but I gave it the name Ellen and even wrote a song for her. I’ll always feel connected to her.
FAR TOO YOUNG — BUT I SO REGRET IT
Claire Harrison, 33, is a full-time carer for her two youngest children who are both autistic. She lives with her partner Jason Watson, 30, a painter and decorator, and their children Anabel, seven, Joey, three, and Emily, two, in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. She says:
Claire Harrison (pictured) , 33, had an abortion at the age of 17 as her parents told her she wasn’t old enough to have a baby
Even as I went under the anaesthetic to have my abortion, there was a big part of me that wanted to cry out: ‘I don’t want this!’
I never wanted to get rid of my baby. It was 2005 and I may have been only 17, but I’d always wanted to be a mum and the fact I’d got to 13 weeks and had started to develop a bump made me feel even more maternal.
However, my parents told me I wasn’t old enough, didn’t have enough money and couldn’t take the responsibility — which was all true. But I look back and wonder what might have happened if they had just been a bit more supportive. It has affected the relationship we have now, because I can’t forgive them for persuading me to have the operation.
I’d been with my boyfriend for three years when I got pregnant while taking the Pill. I’d been ill just before, so maybe that altered its effectiveness.
I’m adopted myself and I discovered that my birth mother hid her own teenage pregnancy from her parents until days before the birth. What if she’d had an abortion? That would have meant I’d never lived
When I did a test at six weeks and saw it was positive, I was really excited. I told my boyfriend, who wasn’t happy and urged me to get rid of it. I was heartbroken.
When I broke the news to my parents a couple of weeks later, they took me to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, where I was asked if I wanted counselling, but I said no. I told them I didn’t want an abortion.
For weeks my parents and I were at loggerheads. I was determined to go ahead, as I wanted to be a mum and had imagined what it might be like.
But in the end I knew I’d have to have the operation. They were right, I didn’t have the finances even though I had a full-time job. It broke my heart. I was so young and just wish I’d been told there were other options.
I’m adopted myself and I discovered that my birth mother hid her own teenage pregnancy from her parents until days before the birth. What if she’d had an abortion? That would have meant I’d never lived.
I stayed with that boyfriend for three more years but I knew he wasn’t the man I’d settle down with. When I finally had Anabel at 26, it was after six years of unexplained infertility and I will always wonder if my abortion had anything to do with it, especially as I’d fallen pregnant so easily in my teens.
I try not to think about the abortion itself, or the due date. I have my hands full looking after my three children and I find it too upsetting.
I DIDN’T WANT TO GIVE UP MY LIFE
Gabriella Apicella, 38, is a screenwriter and teacher. She lives in Hornsey, North London, and has been in a new relationship for four months. She says:
Gabriella Apicella (pictured), 38, had an abortion at the age of 31 as she says she had never been maternal. At the time she had been with her partner less than a year
My pregnancy in 2011 at the age of 31 was totally unplanned. I’d been with my partner for less than a year, we weren’t living together and I had been taking the Pill — though clearly I had not been paying attention.
When the test was positive, my immediate thought was: ‘I’ve got to get rid of this.’ There was no doubt in my mind. I’ve never been maternal at all and while I love children, I’ve never wanted any of my own.
It’s not for selfish reasons — if anything, women who don’t have babies are being incredibly selfless by not overpopulating the planet. I just knew I didn’t want to give up my life to look after a child — it wouldn’t be fair on either of us.
So when I found out I was pregnant, I called my partner and told him what I was planning. He was thankful he didn’t have to persuade me one way or the other. He already had a child with a previous partner and didn’t want another.
What shocked me most about my abortion was how many hoops you have to jump through to get one. You can’t simply get one on demand — I had to go to my GP, then two other doctors had to sign it off.
I don’t look back on the experience with the slightest regret
I’ve had depression in the past, so the doctors were only too willing to sign off. This has nothing to do with my wellbeing, but the potential risk to the unborn child.
I went on my own to the Homerton Hospital in East London for the operation and everyone there couldn’t have been more compassionate.
They were astonishingly gentle. I’d asked for an IUD contraceptive to be inserted, too, as there was no way I wanted this to happen again. Afterwards, I came home and felt so relieved it was over. Having a bunch of cells inside me that I didn’t want to be there felt invasive. I was as happy with my decision then as I am now.
I spoke to my partner on the phone after the abortion, then never heard from him again. I don’t think he was upset that I’d gone ahead with it, but an unplanned pregnancy plunged the relationship into something more ‘serious’ that it had been, which scared him. I was annoyed because we had been having such fun before.
But I don’t look back on the experience with the slightest regret. My mum sacrificed so much to give me and my brother the best chances in life and I knew I’d need to be able to do the same for my children.
Maybe I’ll adopt or foster in the future. So many children need a little kindness and love and have led such tough lives. So maybe one day I can do that.
MY GRANDSON HAS HELPED ME GRIEVE
Josephine Woodgate, 71, is a retired legal administrator. Divorced, she has two daughters aged 45 and 39 and lives in Exmouth. She says:
Josephine Woodgate (pictured) , 71, had an abortion in 1970 as she didn’t love her partner
Recently, I was laughing at my four-year-old grandson and I asked my daughter: ‘I wonder if this is the little boy I should have had?’
I have no idea whether the baby I aborted back in 1970 was a boy, but I’ve always had a feeling it may have been. Perhaps the fact that I get so much joy out of my grandchildren means God is being kind to me for a decision I still regret.
I had just split from my husband in the spring of 1970 and was a young single mum with no home or money, so I was forced to move back in with my parents.
I was working in a hotel when I met Michael and we had a fling. It developed into something I thought was more meaningful and we even started talking about marriage. But when I found out I was pregnant I despaired.
Although Michael said he wanted me to keep the baby and we’d make the best of it, I knew he didn’t really think that — and being pregnant made me realise I didn’t really love him. I tried to adapt to the thought of having another child, but I couldn’t.
A month later, I sobbed to my GP and he suggested my only option was to terminate the pregnancy. I booked into an abortion clinic to have the procedure — which had only recently been legalised — just shy of 12 weeks into my pregnancy.
Michael and I told friends and family we were going away for the weekend and when we got home, we said I’d miscarried. It sounds odd now, but we feared people wouldn’t talk to us if they knew the truth.
In the weeks following the abortion I felt numb but relieved, too. I left Michael and moved back in with my parents, who never knew about the termination. The decision has preyed on my mind for years.
When I married my second husband, Peter, and got pregnant again, it was a particularly tough time. When I reached 12 weeks — the stage at which I’d had my termination — I learnt that the baby’s vital organs had formed. It made me feel incredibly guilty and when I held my daughter in my arms for the first time, all I could think was that I should have done this with the baby I’d killed.
Today, I know that if I lived my life again I would never have had the abortion. But I think it’s absolutely every woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body.