Abortion Law Reform Association

  • Abortion Law Reform Association
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


This collection consists of records of the Abortion Law Reform Association, its officers, and individuals connected with the attempt to reform the abortion laws, plus various associated materials. The Arrangement field sets out the latter in more detail. The administrative records of the ALRA c.1935-1978 include papers of Chairman Janet Chance, and, following the passing of 1967 Act making abortion legal, papers of the 'Lane' Committee on Working of the Aberdeen Act and Abortion Amendment Bills.

This collection includes material which has not yet been catalogued. Additions to an archive are referred to as 'accruals'. A summary of the uncatalogued materials in this collection is provided under 'Accruals'.



Physical description

112 boxes, 1 oversize box, 1 oversize folder and 1 digital item Uncatalogued: 74 transfer boxes, 4 files and 1 archive box


The collection is divided into sections as follows:

A. Records of the Abortion Law Reform Association, 1930-1970 (a detailed index of this material is included at the Section-level record)

B. Further papers of the Abortion Law Reform Association and its officers, 1934-1980

C. Papers of the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act (The Lane Committee), 1971-1974

D. Reprints, articles, lectures, etc, 1935-1979

E. Press cuttings, 1930-1979

F. Reports of the Brook Advisory Centres, 1965-1981

G. Madeleine Simms' papers 1950s-1980s

H. Supplementary papers of the Abortion Law Reform Association 1961-1981

There are some inconsistencies in the numbering of individual sheets in Section A: gaps in the numbering do not signify missing items.

Acquisition note

In 1982 it was decided that the long-term safekeeping and easier access to researchers of the records sent by ALRA to Aberdeen would be best served by transferring them to the library at Wellcome Collection, which already held a number of collections on related topics (papers of Marie Stopes, the Eugenics Society, etc). The records were therefore sent to the Library in December 1982 (accession 123) and a certain amount of re-arrangement took place.

Since then, additional accessions have been received: in 1983, Madeleine Simms' papers (acc.148); additional administrative records of ALRA in 1984 (acc.156), 1990 (acc.356) 1993 (acc.477) and 2000 (acc.837); Dame Josephine Barnes' papers from the Lane Committee, those which filled gaps in existing holdings being taken in 1990 (acc.348); additional Lane committee papers and Diane Munday's letters to the press, received in 1998 (acc.783); and press cuttings, received in 1985 (acc.224) and 1996 (acc.626). Accessions 224, 477, 626, 783 and 837 are not yet catalogued. Further material forming accessions 1181, 1204, 1399 and 1499 acquired between 2003 and 2007 are also as yet uncatalogued. Madeleine Simms's further ALRA material, and materials gathered for her history of abortion law reform in England, were received as Accession 1874 in early 2012. Later in 2012 files relating to the ALRA/NAC merger were received as Accession 1945. A small group of copies of Breaking Chains, 1977-1983, filling in gaps in the sequence in SA/ALR/B.37, were received from Val Smith in Jul 2013

Biographical note

The Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) was founded in 1935 for the legalisation of abortion in certain circumstances. This was achieved by the 1967 Abortion Act: the Association continues to combat attempts to restrict the availability of legal abortions and to ensure that the intentions of the Act are being carried out.

An outline chronology follows, giving significant dates in the history of abortion law in the United Kingdom and of the ALRA:

1803 Lord Ellenborough's Act criminalises the procurement of abortion, previously permissable up to 'quickening'

1861 Legislation pertaining to abortion consolidated in the Offences Against the Person Act

1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act provides for abortion when carrying the pregnancy to term would be fatal

1931-1932 Justice McCardie's remarks during abortion cases at Leeds Assizes receive widespread press attention

1934 Cooperative Women's Guild pass a resolution in favour of legalisation of abortion at their Annual Meeting

1934 British Medical Association Committee on the Medical Aspects of Abortion set up (reports 1936)

1936 Abortion: Three Views by Stella Browne, Harry Roberts and A Ludovici published

1936 Foundation of Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA)

1936-1937 Joint Committee of Midwifery Induced Abortion Survey

1937 Interdepartmental Committee on Abortion set up under chairmanship of Mr Norman Birkett (reported 1939)

1938 Alec Bourne tried for performing abortion on 14-year-old girl gang-raped by soldiers; Mr Justice Macnaghten's ruling establishes common law precedent for abortion on psychiatric grounds

1944 Informal ALRA meeting to decided post-war policy

1947 Publication of Back Street Surgery

1948 Bergmann and Ferguson case: doctor's good faith rather than correctness of diagnosis ruled to be the issue

1949 Dr Eustace Chesser's lecture on 'Society and Abortion'

1950 Chesser pamphlet distributed

1950 The Fallen Sparrow, play on abortion, produced at Gateway Theatre Club

1950 Enquirer's leaflet drafted

1952 Joseph Reeves' Private Member's Bill talked out

1954 Lord Amulree's Bill introduced in House of Lords, withdrawn before Second Reading

1956 Kenneth Robinson asks question in House of Commons

1957 Parliamentary questions from Lena Jeger and Douglas Houghton

1958 Newton and Stungo case leads to re-emphasis of psychiatric health as grounds for abortion

1958 Publication of Glanville Williams The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law

1960 Alice Jenkins' Law for the Rich published

1961 K Robinson's Bill talked out in Parliament

1961 Thalidomide disaster

1962 Parliamentary Questions in Commons and Lords as to whether mothers who had taken thalidomide eligible for abortions.

1962 Formation of Birmingham ALRA Group

1963 North-west London and Bristol Groups formed

1963 Doctors' Survey

1964 Manchester Group formed

1964 First ALRA attempt to enlist large-scale Parliamentary support

1964 Survey of London GPs by North-west London Group (published 1965)

1964 Return of a Labour Government: Gerald Gardiner QC, a longstanding adviser to ALRA, as Lord Chancellor

1965 Abortifacients survey by Birmingham Group

1965 Deputation to Home Secretary (Sir Frank Soskice)

1965 Cumberland Doctors' Survey

1965 South East London Group formed

1965 Renee Short and David Kerr questions in Commons

1965 Publication of Abortion: An Ethical Discussion, report of the Church Assembly's Board for Social Responsibility

1965 RC MP talks out Renee Short's 10-Minute Rule Bill

1965 Lord Silkin's first Bill introduced

1965 National Opinion Poll

1966 Simon Wingfield Digby's Bill talked out by RCs

1966 Joint Report by BMA and RCOG

1966 South East London Group Clergymen's Survey

1966 Lord Silkin's second Bill introduced

1966 David Steel successful in private members' ballot and agrees to sponsor Bill on abortion

1966 Government allocates time for debates and Home Office drafting

1966 Publication of Paul Ferris The Nameless: Abortion in Britain Today

1967 SPUC formed to fight Steel Bill

1966 NOP medical survey

1966 Lord Silkin's second Bill passes through House of Lords

1966 Steel Bill passed and receives Royal Assent, October

1968 Apr Abortion Act comes into force

1969 Norman St John Stevas introduces Bill under 10 minute Rule to amend Act

1970 Godman Irvine attempts to introduce a private member's Bill to amend Act

1970 LIFE set up to campaign against Act

1970-1971 RCOG Enquiry into First Year of the Abortion Act, Working Party on Unplanned Pregnancy

1971-1974 Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act (Lane Committee)

1974 Birth control becomes free under the NHS

1974 Babies for Burning published

1975 James White Abortion (Amendment) Bill

1975 Babies for Burning discredited by Sunday Times investigation

1975-1980 Select Committee on Abortion

1977 Benyon Abortion Amendment Bill

1978 Braine 10 Minute Rule Abortion Amendment Bill

1979-1980 John Corrie Abortion (Amendment) Bill

1980 David Alton 10 Minute Rule Abortion Amendment Bill

1988 David Alton Abortion (Amendment) Bill

1990 Attempt to restrict abortion through a clause in Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill; vote fixes limit at 24 weeks, with no limit in cases of severe fetal abnormality or permanent injury to mother's health

1991 Mifepristone (RU-486), abortion drug, licensed for use by registered medical practitioners in authorised hospitals and clinics

1992 Attempts by American anti-abortion extremists to picket clinics, etc, in UK

2003 ALRA merges with the National Abortion Campaign to form Abortion Rights

Related material

In Wellcome:

Readers interested in the subject of abortion will also find relevant material in the following collections: Family Planning Association archives (SA/FPA), records of the Joint Committee of Midwifery abortion survey in the archives of the National Birthday Trust Fund (SA/NBT/S), records of the Birth Control Campaign and Birth Control Trust (SA/BCC, SA/BCT), and of the National Abortion Campaign (SA/NAC). Letters received by Marie Stopes (PP/MCS) include requests for abortion, and there is also some material in this collection on abortifacients. There are also some pertinent files among the "Groups" files of the British Medical Association (SA/BMA) and the archives of the Eugenics Society (SA/EUG). There are also leaflets within the ephemera collection.

Material held elsewhere:

The papers of Alistair Service are at the Bodleian Library, Oxford

Terms of use

This collection is currently partially uncatalogued. Uncatalogued material cannot be ordered online. Requests to view uncatalogued material are considered on a case by case basis. Please contact collections@wellcomecollection.org for more details.

Accruals note

The following is an interim description of material that has been acquired since this collection was catalogued. This description may change when cataloguing takes place in future:

Acc 224: Press-cuttings, possibly accumulated by British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Acc 352: Further administrative records of ALRA, 1970s-1980s

Acc 477: Miscellaneous papers and files found when moving office: presscuttings, writings, correspondence

Acc 626: Press-cuttings

Acc 783: 2 box files of papers relating to Lane Committee, and Diane Munday's letters to press

Acc 837: Papers discovered during office move

Acc 1181: Mainly films and videos

Acc 1204: Papers of Vera Houghton in two files titled "Labour Party" and "ARLA: Leaflets and annual reports / Reprints: Handbills: Speakers Notes: Guide talks", 1960s-1970s (information added February 2022.)

Acc 1399: Papers of Vera Houghton, concerning her activities with ALRA and related organisations (Birth Control Campaign, International Planned Parenthood Federation), 1930s-1990s

Acc 1499: Vera Houghton's ALRA papers re Lane Committee, Select Committee and various attempts to amend the 1967 Act

Acc 1874: Papers relating to Madeleine Simms's involvement with ALRA and related organisations and some of her other activities, and material gathered in connection with her history of ALRA.

Acc 1945: Material chiefly relating to the merger of ALRA with the National Abortion Campaign: Minutes and associated reports; administrative documentation on various ALRA issues including post-coital contraception, mid-1970s-mid-2000s

Acc 1849: 1 file with note titled "ALRA Old Papers": Ephemera, papers relating to abortion (1961-1970), legislation (1967), newsletters (1967, 1973), speakers notes (1966), ARLA members and speakers lists (1965-1967), ARLA report titled "Evidence to committee of inquiry into the working of the 1967 Abortion Act" (1972). Information added February 2022.

Acc 2747: 1 protest banner created by Madeleine Simms, 1960s.


The catalogue is available on microfiche via the National Inventory of Documentary Sources (NIDS).

Abbreviations used in the original catalogue (many have been expanded during retroconversion to database format):

ALRA Abortion Law Reform Association

ALR Abortion Law Reform

Assoc. Association

BMA British Medical Association

BMJ British Medical Journal

BPAS British Pregnancy Advisory Service

CMO County Medical Officer

C. of E. Church of England

C. of S. Church of Scotland

CWAA Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act (The Lane Committee)

Cttee. Committee

DHSS Department of Health and Social Security

Dioc. Diocesan

Dist. District

Exec. Cttee Executive Committee

Fed. Federation

FPA Family Planning Association

Gen. General

GMC General Medical Council

HBM Hospital Board of Management

HIPE Hospital In-patient Enquiry

HMC Hospital Management Committee

H. of C. House of Commons

H. of L. House of Lords

Hosp. Hospital

IPPF International Planned Parenthood Federation

Inst. Institute

J. Journal

L. Letter

Lab. Labour

Lib. Liberal

Lit. Literature

LSE London School of Economics

M/cr. Manchester

Med. Medical

MOH Medical Office of Health

MP Member of Parliament

MRC Medical Research Council

Nat. National

NCW National Council of Women

nd Not dated

NUS National Health Service

NOP National Opinion Poll

NS Not stated

P, pp Page, pages

PH Public Health

R. Royal

RCOG Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

RHB Regional Hospital Board

RMPA Royal Medico-Psychological Association

SAMO Senior Area Medical Officer

Secy. Secretary

Soc. Society, Social

SPUC Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child

TWG Townswomen's Guild

TS Typescript

Univ. University

Ownership note

In 1971 the Abortion Law Reform Association, having achieved a major reform of the law on abortion in 1967 with the passing of David Steel's Abortion Act, turned its activities to making sure the Act was implemented and countering moves to restrict it. In 1971 therefore, ALRA offered the records of its activities leading to the passing of the Act to Professor Raymond Illsley of the Institute of Medical Sociology, Aberdeen, for safekeeping and eventual cataloguing and indexing. Certain restrictions on access to the material were imposed. Further records were sent to Aberdeen in 1974. These two lots consisted of the records of ALRA, 1930-1970 (now listed in Section A of this list), and the major part of the presscuttings collection (now in Section E). Work was done on the collection by Jill Taylor and Jean Aitken Swan of the Institute of Medical Sociology, and the list of the records by Jean Aitken Swan forms the basis for Section A. Her description of the records and of the principles of arrangement will be found in the introduction to that Section.

In 1980 further papers were sent to Aberdeen by Mrs Eva Learner, Mrs Madeleine Simms and Mrs Vera Houghton, the main bulk of which consisted of the papers of the Lane Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act accumulated by Mrs Learner in her capacity as a member of the Committee. These papers were listed in the Index to Lane Committee and Other Papers received in Aberdeen 1980, compiled by Jean Aitken Swan. This list has been superseded by the rearrangement of the papers into sections B to F of the current list.


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Accession number

  • 2414
  • 123
  • 148
  • 156
  • 1849
  • 348
  • 352
  • 477
  • 626
  • 783
  • 837
  • 1181
  • 1204
  • 1399
  • 1499
  • 1874
  • 1945
  • 1995
  • 2392
  • 2747