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The Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service was founded by humanist activist, sexologist, sex education advocate, and campaigner for abortion law reform Martin Cole, following the 1967 Abortion Act. This pro-choice service, which later became the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), was created to provide safe, legal, and affordable abortions. Martin Cole had also been an active member of the Abortion Law Reform Association, chairing the Birmingham group. Diane Munday, a founder of the ALRA and a humanist, also became prominent in BPAS as its parliamentary campaigner and spokesperson.

History and influence

A BPAS film. Credit: British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Wellcome Library. In copyright

BPAS was established by Martin Cole as a registered independent healthcare charity in 1968, recognising that though the 1967 Act had legalised abortion, access was still being limited by hospitals failing to provide abortion care, and by doctors refusing to sanction or perform abortions. Cole, with the support of Francois Lafitte and Tony Brierley, stepped in to provide high quality, safe, legal, and affordable consultation and treatment services, relating both to contraception and abortion.

Press release, 1976. Credit: British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). Credit: Wellcome Library. In copyright

Initially, Cole used the front room of his home for consultations, from where patients could be referred to London for operations. In December 1969, BPAS was able to open a private abortion clinic in Edgbaston, and staff and surgeons were employed directly. BPAS had arisen in part from what Cole described as the ‘intransigence and arrogance’ of NHS gynecologists in Birmingham, reluctant to perform abortions even after the 1967 Abortion Act was passed. As such, in the charity’s early stages service users had to pay for the care they received. However, in the years since, BPAS has increasingly worked with the NHS to ensure that access to abortion is equitable and free. Today, over 95% of those who use BPAS’ services have their treatment paid for by the NHS.

As well as working for the equity and accessibility of abortion, Cole was a lifelong advocate of sex education, and the availability of contraception. Four years prior to founding BPAS, he had co-founded the Birmingham Brook Advisory Clinic to offer family planning and contraceptive advice: the first service of its kind to exist outside London. It was Cole’s firm belief that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions carried out was to provide frank, factual information about sex and contraception.

As such a longstanding provider of abortion and abortion care, BPAS has become a leader in offering advice, advocacy, and treatment in the UK. Today, it runs over 70 reproductive healthcare clinics across England, Wales, and Scotland. The charity continues to campaign to advance sexual and reproductive rights for women and raise awareness of the detrimental impact that clinic protests by anti-abortionists have on women when they attend clinics to seek healthcare. Humanists UK supports the establishment of buffer zones  around abortion clinics (including through BPAS’ Back Off campaign), and champions the need for comprehensive relationships and sex education in schools.

Header image credit: British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). Wellcome LibraryIn copyright

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