Intended for healthcare professionals


Paul Bekkering; GP and co-founder of one of the first abortion clinics in the Netherlands

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 10 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n3054
  1. Tony Sheldon
  1. Utrecht, Netherlands
  1. tonysheldon5{at}
Photo credit: Arre Bekkering

Dutch general practitioner Paul Bekkering recalled the 1970s and confronting a Roman Catholic padre demonstrating vociferously in the street outside the abortion clinic where he worked. Eventually the doctor turned away: debating was “pointless.” Yet he and his and colleagues’ actions were changing Dutch medicine.

Bekkering, who died recently aged 91, was one of four doctors who defied conservative post-war Dutch society to establish the first official abortion clinic, Arnhem’s Mildred House in 1971, 13 years before the practice was officially made legal.

Early life and career

The conscientious local GP with a background in the Dutch colonies was not an obvious social radical. But when approached by, often very young and poor, women facing backstreet clinics or forced to try to travel abroad for an abortion, he was adamant. “Women ask for your help and then you have to do it, full stop,” he recently told a television documentary looking back 50 years since he made history.

His teenage experiences shaped his view of human suffering. He was born in 1930 in Medan, Sumatra, into the privileged colonial world of the Dutch East Indies, the son of a water engineer. His mother died when he was 6, and five years later Japan entered the second world war, overrunning the …

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