Intended for healthcare professionals


Peter Diggory

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 24 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1081
  1. Paul Diggory

    Helped reform UK legislation to allow safe and legal abortions

    Peter Diggory had a substantial influence on many of the liberal reforms in medical practice and ethics in the 1960s and 1970s. At a time of conservative, male dominated medical politics he believed in a woman’s right to control her own fertility. As medical advisor to David (later Lord) Steel he helped draft the 1967 Abortion Act. He founded some of the first free contraceptive clinics in the country and pioneered the first day case surgery unit for abortions and minor gynaecological surgery in the NHS.

    The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 made abortion a criminal offence. Before 1967 a common law defence of “necessity” existed for a doctor facing a charge of procuring a miscarriage. In 1939 a jury at the Old Bailey had accepted this defence from a surgeon, Aleck Bourne, who had performed an abortion on a 14 year old girl on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy would leave her a “mental wreck” (R v Bourne [1939] 1 KB 687 HC) Justice Macnaughten ruled that if continuing with the pregnancy was likely to make the woman a mental or physical wreck then performing an abortion could be said to have been performed to save her life. However, before 1967 few gynaecologists would perform therapeutic abortions …

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