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Hi, I’m Wendy Bourton. I first came to Cardiff in 1974. I was already aware of women’s rights, women’s issues, and Spare Rib had started. And actually in early 75 I found I was pregnant and wanted a termination. And what happened was I went to one doctor who said because of their religious beliefs that they wouldn’t, and then I went to another doctor in the practice who was very sniffy, by which time days and weeks were going on, and I was feeling anxious, and I was young, and confused, and then I miscarried, and saw the first doctor, who said “Oh, well you didn’t want it, go home and clean the house.” In the end of this I was very very ill, and in hospital, and had to have an emergency D&C because of haemorrhage, and that sharpened my thinking about termination and women’s availability.

And then I became involved with the National Abortion Campaign in Cardiff. We used to have weekly meetings in Charles Street and – well what seemed like weekly meetings, which varied in duration and quite often involved a lot of discussion, a lot of energy, a degree of tense energy and then quite often we’d go to the pub afterwards. Alongside that, we went to demonstrations, we spoke at events, we produced literature and there were lots of other things going on at the same time like Reclaim the Night, Cardiff Women’s Centre, and memories I have, I guess, about things to do with National Abortion Campaign, preparing sandwiches for demonstrations, to sell to raise money, we did the Cardiff Abortion Rights Puppet Theatre, three of us were involved in that, we actually hit the Echo, with news of this scurrilous group that had performed at – I don’t know if it was a Labour Party do but children were present and they shouldn’t be exposed to these issues – it was incredibly crude the Puppet Theatre, really it was – you know, I can remember us doing it and it was very much about the fact that working class women weren’t able to get legal abortions and we had the doom and gloom of women dying, and these kids were so bored with what we were doing, they weren’t being corrupted at all, they ended up, I don’t know where they got the nails from, they ended up chucking nails at the booth, so I would have thought, we got publicity, because we were so awful, but actually we’d been pelted with nails by these children who just thought we were boring. And we did that a bit, I think a couple of times we did the Puppet Theatre group, and lots of times campaigning, on the streets, lots of conversations of helping women who were also in that situation of having terminations, and I remember we used to try and do support groups – and – and the injustice of it really, the injustice that someone else would be in control of your body, rather than you being able to make that decision, wherever you were placed in the world, seemed so wrong, and I think for so many women of all sorts of ages, even then you could have that conversation with women, about why you were doing it, what it was about, and something we all shared, that concern I guess.

I remember meetings in Cardiff Women’s Centre, as well, around abortion, and we then - as time went on and we went past the 67 Act and years went through, there were lots of joyous times over securing the 67 Act, and beyond, and there was a 74, wasn’t there, a 74, and I remember then there came a debate within the abortion campaign about whether or not it should be a broad-based campaign or remain a single issue. And there was huge debate, not always easy, quite challenging conversations. And two of us - both within Cardiff and nationally – and two of us went to the big debate, in Liverpool I think it was, about National Abortion Campaign or reproductive rights. I think some of the things about the National Abortion Campaign that people used to be worried about was the influence of other groups on the National Abortion Campaign, and that was often an area of concern and indeed within the women’s movement there was always tensions about splits and fusions of various groupings and who was really controlling the agenda.
So the outcome of that was that we went to the debate, I think we were very taken by a broader brush approach, came back to Cardiff, we had a meeting in the Women’s Centre, which was - my memory of it is that it was incredibly acrimonious, about whether we’d stay National Abortion Campaign or whether we’d go Reproductive Rights. In the end we split. And I was involved in the Reproductive Rights campaign, and we had the first national Reproductive Rights Campaign held here in Cardiff, and women from all over the UK came to that. And after that, my memory’s less clear about how things went on. Reproductive Rights had various campaigns around various issues, cos it was across the spectrum. I can’t remember what happened to NAC, and I’m not sure why I can’t remember, because perhaps there wasn’t very much happened or the fusions were so great – I can’t remember.

And then, there was sort of – in my world there was silence until a few years ago when I became aware that Bronwen was back on the streets campaigning on her own in St Mary Street – Bronwen Davies – and that’s when I guess you ended up feeling, fantastic that Bronwen was doing that, but so absolutely disheartened that we still had to do it. And you wonder, don’t you, all those years, when you know that women have still had problems, particularly in certain parts of the UK, to secure their right to terminate pregnancy, but you’ve somehow thought, “Oh well we’ve got the morning-after pill, we’ve got so much better clinics, STD clinics and advice”, but in actual fact, you can still talk to women about their difficulty, about what happens when their contraception, particularly if it’s one of the long term, long-acting contraception, fails, and how they still face that and they still have that awful decision to make, and instead of being supported, at a time when they’re making such a difficult, difficult decision, they’re still being put through the bureaucratic hoops of other people feeling they have a better right to make that decision for them. I guess that’s where I started to get it back in my consciousness and attend a few things but not really get involved in the abortion rights campaign in practice, very much in support from a distance and attending the odd event, but finding it part of my narrative again in the world of talking to people and talking to older women who report experiences of trying to get terminations and experience of their daughters trying to get terminations and now their grandchildren and you think “How can that be, how can that be, that we’re still doing this?”

So that’s, in a very quick sort of shell, that’s my experience. I think the strength of the women who were involved in NAC, in the early days, in the big demonstrations that we went to in Birmingham, and London, was incredible, and the strength of feeling, and it brought women together, and at that time there was quite a lot of discussion amongst women about their body politic, and it was part of an incredible time of feeling your strength, feeling solidarity, and learning stuff about yourself, which I think for many women that was the first time they’d had those discussions, I remember in the women’s centre there was the Women’s Health Group and practising with the speculum, having a look and having to do gymnastics to see how things were working down there, and see if you could see your cervix with a mirror, and all those things, lots of laughter, I think people forget when you think about the big campaigns, although we were dealing with very serious issues and we felt very strongly about them, and passionately about them, there was a huge amount of humour and laughter and joy, and celebrating the successes that we made. And there were friendships developed that lasted a lifetime. And what’s really interesting, in recent years, when I’ve been working in those centres, nothing to do, directly, with women’s lives, or feminism, you meet women and you say something, and they tell you their story, and their situation, and again, you know, they tell you about how their campaign went, whether it be somewhere in England, somewhere else in Wales, and you have all those common links and common understandings and mirror lives, over your experience of those campaigns, and that’s a huge strength, and it’s like constantly filling in, almost, the dots, the gaps, in the tapestry of women’s politics, I guess, in women’s lives, more fundamentally.

So it’s clear to say that I was somebody who liked being involved in campaigns, I still like being involved, I still see myself as an activist. I think one of the things looking down the list, it says “How did you communicate with each other?”, Well, nowadays you’d think, oh my goodness, with great difficulty, but at the time it felt ok. We used to have telephone trees, particularly when we were doing Greenham work, we had the newsletter, I remember writing for the newsletter - and I remember a bander, with carbon duplication and that incredible smell of methylated, with your hand going round and round and round for hours, running off stuff, I remember us making badges, Abortion Rights Campaign badges, and postcards, I remember making postcards, and the humour that came out there was pretty good. And we used to ring each other up, I guess with the landline, people used to say “Well I’ll drop something in and tell them, or I’ll drop something in and tell them.” So communication was nothing like it would be today, but it was still effective, and it still worked. And in some ways, we used different forms of creativity, I guess, that was really what we were doing, different forms of creativity. And you knew that if you went to certain venues, Charles Street VCS, in Cardiff, or the Friends’ Meeting House was often used, you’d be able to find out what was going on anyway. There were certain – or the Women’s Centre. It says, another area on here on the list, I see – “What sort of difference do you think your campaigning made?” I don’t think my campaigning made a particular difference, I think our collective campaigning gave a voice, and that voice is obviously still there. It gave a voice, and gave strength to women to come along and join in that voice, so that we could campaign, and go to MPs’ surgery Ian Grist, I remember sitting in Ian Grist’s surgery and talking to him and he was really positive, and some people had much closer connection with him. And I can remember picketing things, as well – but we did it together, it was the strength, it was a bit like bees, it was the strength of us being together that gave the campaign the momentum and the courage and brought the outcomes that we were looking for. And clearly, people were very good at tuning into the political routes into the legislative process, so that we could target particular politicians and enable them to take forward the extensions of time or the improvements that we were looking for at the time. And, and that still stands, doesn’t it, only we do it differently now, but I think we’re seeing in some ways many of those patterns we evolved in the 70s and 80s come into being again with the need to be out on the streets raising the issues again. And I think we always knew the issues were complex, and it was always very clear, despite the fact that perhaps for people that disagree with us, it was always very clear to women, it’s about women making that decision, nobody says it’s easy, nobody says it’s easy to live with, but it’s got to be the woman who lives with that decision, who makes that choice. And it can’t be any other way. To live either without that choice, and have that choice made for you by somebody else, is a dreadful state of affairs and it changes somebody’s life forever. And I guess “What impact did the 67 Abortion Act have on my life?” well it gave me the choice not to go to the backstreet, but it didn’t necessarily mean it was easy, and that’s why we continued to campaign and why when we thought the Benyon Bill and the White? White something Bill, when we thought they were going to erode some of those rights, you know that’s when you have to get out there on the street and the same - when you see the people who don’t agree with the woman’s right to choose out there you have to get out there because you can’t erode something, it still isn’t in practice what we’d want it to be, which is a woman’s right to choose. So in my experience when I started, I went to doctors who just really, either weren’t prepared to talk to me about terminating or weren’t prepared to have a positive conversation with me that made it easy. And one thing we all know about termination, it should be easy supportive, medical decision that supports you as the individual to have that choice. And it shouldn’t be somebody else’s. So the 67 Act has enabled us to get away from the backstreets, to take things forward, to perhaps support medical science as it develops and enables a morning-after pill and early interventions, and emotional support to help women who have to be, who are in that situation, who have to make those decisions. But I don’t feel now as confident as I did some years ago that we will be able to stop our vigilance in this matter. And only last week on the radio, Radio 4, they were discussing about the whole issue around children, foetuses being able to be sustained at an earlier age and where that takes us, and the decisions about whether or not people should make termination decisions based on the genetic codes that seem to be suggested for that foetus, and it’s really the context of those conversations so often suggests that the woman’s right to choose isn’t there in the way that we would want it. You want women to be able to maintain a pregnancy if that’s what they want, and for a foetus to be born early and survive if that’s the right course of action for that family, but you don’t want that medical science to deny women what they need as well, and you realise that that debate has still not been proven, has still not rested, there’s always a little bit of opposition, “Oh well, if the foetuses are able to survive much younger then we ought to change the abortion legislation.” And we didn’t. We just ought to make sure that everybody concerned, that the women concerned, get that right to choose at the right time for them. And the right support. So I guess it’s something that’s stayed with me now and will be with me probably for some time, that feeling that this is - we still haven’t got there, we’ve gone a long way, but there’s still discussion to be had, and that’s why, I guess, I’m here today and also to just pay tribute to all those women that were strong and brave and started the abortion campaign, the National Abortion Campaign, and who stayed with those ambitions and those values and those perspectives, and be really grateful I was able to just join in, because it made a difference to my life on lots of levels, not only in terms of right to choose, but also right to choose my life. And I think for an awful lot of women, that’s what we were doing at the time, we were discovering the fact that actually we can make those choices, we can have lives, that go beyond the limited stereotypes that we were perhaps given to understand when we were children and being brought up. So it’s had a tremendous effect for me, I’ve had really great loyal friendships as a consequence of that, I still prefer women’s company to everybody else’s, to mixed company, and I will always cherish those years of being involved in the National Abortion Campaign, being involved in the women’s movement, and the successes we made. But recognising that we’ve got a long way to go still, it seems to me. I can’t think of anything else that I need to say. So thank you very much.

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