The 1967 Abortion Act fifty years on: Abortion, medical authority and the law revisited

Lee, Ellie J. and Sheldon, Sally and Macvarish, Jan (2018) The 1967 Abortion Act fifty years on: Abortion, medical authority and the law revisited. Social Science and Medicine, 212 . pp. 26-32. ISSN 0277-9536. E-ISSN 0277-9536. (doi: (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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The recent 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act provides the opportunity to revisit what has been termed the ‘remarkable authority’ this Act ascribes to doctors. This paper does so using as its starting point a seminal commentary on this question by the renowned medical sociologist Sally Macintyre, published in this journal in 1973 as ‘The Medical Profession and the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain’. We revisit themes from that paper through an analysis of the findings of interviews with 14 doctors who, throughout lengthy careers, have provided abortions and led the development of the abortion service in England and Wales. We contrast our findings with Macintyre’s, and argue that our interviews highlight the shifting meaning of medical authority and medical professionalism. We show that those doctors most involved in providing abortions place moral value on this work; uphold the authority of women (not doctors) in abortion decision-making; view nurses and midwives as professional collaborators; and consider their professional and clinical judgement impeded by the present law. We conclude that medical sociologists have much to gain by taking abortion provision as a focus for the further exploration of the shifting meaning of medical authority.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: England and Wales, abortion, law, medical authority, Sally Macintyre
Subjects: K Law
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > Kent Law School
Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Ellie Lee
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2018 08:35 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2018 10:03 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Lee, Ellie J.:
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