Medicine and abortion law: complicating the reforming profession

Med Law Rev. Spring 2015;23(2):177-99. doi: 10.1093/medlaw/fwv012.


The complicated intra-professional rivalries that have contributed to the current contours of abortion law and service provision have been subject to limited academic engagement. In this article, we address this gap. We examine how the competing interests of different specialisms played out in abortion law reform from the early twentieth-century, through to the enactment of the Abortion Act 1967, and the formation of the structures of abortion provision in the early 1970s. We demonstrate how professional interests significantly shaped the landscape of abortion law in England, Scotland, and Wales. Our analysis addresses two distinct and yet related fields where professional interests were negotiated or asserted in the journey to law reform. Both debates align with earlier analysis that has linked abortion law reform with the market development of the medical profession. We argue that these two axes of debate, both dominated by professional interests, interacted to help shape law's treatment of abortion, and continue to influence the provision of abortion services today.

Keywords: Abortion; History of abortion; Medical profession.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / history
  • Abortion, Induced / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Delivery of Health Care / history
  • Delivery of Health Care / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Health Care Reform / history
  • Health Care Reform / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Personnel / history
  • Health Personnel / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Societies, Medical / history
  • Societies, Medical / standards
  • State Medicine / history
  • State Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United Kingdom