Diane Munday is a humanist and activist, whose tireless campaigning alongside the Abortion Law Reform Association helped to pass the Abortion Act 1967, a groundbreaking piece of UK legislation widening access to safe, legal abortions for women in Britain. Sceptical of religion from an early age, Munday’s lifelong efforts for compassionate reform have been motivated by a deeply felt and active humanism.
In the early 1960s, Munday joined the Abortion Law Reform Association and within a year was elected to the executive committee of the ALRA. She occupied the role of vice-chairman and was organisation’s main spokesperson until she became its General Secretary in 1968. Munday moved to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service until the 1990s, which she helped to found, where she was its press and parliamentary campaigner and spokesperson. During this time, not only was she an influential executive member, she was also an effective public speaker, working tirelessly to promote the cause of the ALRA. Munday was active in lecturing, broadcasting, being interviewed on television and radio, writing, debating and giving speeches at hundreds of public meetings, events and women’s organisations on the topics of abortion, pregnancy and family planning throughout the country. She told stories, raised awareness and explained the need for legal abortion, seeking to change negative opinions and do away with the stigma attached to abortion. She humanised an issue that those who were anti-abortion had done everything in their power to dehumanise.
Munday campaigned to bring the 1967 Act into being and was one of a group of campaigners including Madeleine Simms (1930-2011), Dilys Cossey, Alastair Service (1933-2013) and Lady Vera Houghton (1914-2013), who helped to legalise abortion in Britain, convinced that Britain’s abortion laws were restrictive and created ‘one world for women with money and another for women without’. It has been her life’s work to see that abortion is decriminalised and made a medical matter instead of a criminal one. Also brought into sharp focus, and a directly related health issue at the time, was the fallout of the thalidomide disaster, where in 1962 it was revealed that thousands of children had been affected by severe, and in some cases, fatal foetal abnormalities after their mothers took the prescribed drug for the treatment of morning sickness and sleeplessness. Due to the strict abortion laws at the time, women could not seek an abortion even when they knew that their baby might be affected by the drug.
Munday’s great work was significantly motivated by her own personal experiences of an abortion at Harley Street in 1961 aged 29, which was then illegal, unless the patient could pay off medical professionals to agree to carry out an abortion on physical or mental health grounds. Fortunately, Diane had the funds to do this, but used her experiences as a catalyst to bring about wider change. Her decision to openly describe her personal experience of abortion at a Reform Association meeting was radical, coming as it did at a time when few people spoke openly about abortion. As one of those few, Munday realised what a powerful weapon telling her story was.
More than 50 years after the 1967 Abortion Act passed in the House of Commons, and with abortion still being a divisive topic, Munday continues to talk and tell her story in ongoing efforts to bring about change. She has also continued to apply her principles of humanism and rationalism in the field of medical ethics, and to date, has a specific interest in assisted dying.