FAMILY PLANNING & NATIONAL APPROVAL - OPPOSITION LOCALLY IN BIRMINGHAMLambeth Conference 1930
Church and state gave qualified approval to the use of Birth Control methods in certain cases at the 1930 Lambeth Conference when the Bishops submitted a report on Marriage and Sex. ‘Sex is a God-given factor in the life of mankind and its functions are therefore essentially noble and creative. Correspondingly great is the responsibility for the right to use it…there are cases in married life which justify and even demand the limitation of the family by some means. The Church is concerned with the moral principle which must govern such limitation…it can never be right for intercourse to take place which might lead to a conception, where a birth would involve grave danger, even the life, of the mother, or would inflict upon the child a life of suffering; or where the mother would be prematurely exhausted and additional children would render her incapable of carrying out her duties to the existing family….we cannot condemn the this of scientific methods to prevent conception which are thoughtfully and conscientiously adopted’. The Bishops at the Lambeth Conference accordingly passed a resolution approving birth control by 193 votes to 67 with the proviso, ‘where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence.’Ministry of Health Memorandum
Also in July 1930 the Ministry of Health issued a Memorandum permitting Local Authorities to provide birth control for women on medical grounds. In November the same year the principal women’s societies in Birmingham sent a resolution to the City Council asking for action on the memorandum. The Maternity and Child Welfare committee report published by the Medical Officer of Health in Birmingham vetoed the MOH proposal on the grounds that he considered advice with mechanical methods contrary to the interests of both parents – a view directly challenged by medical authorities. As a result a signed protest was sent to the Lord Mayor, the Chairman of the Maternity and Infant Welfare Committee and the Press!‘WE THE UNDERSIGNED
feel compelled to protest against the decision of the Birmingham \Maternity and Child Welfare Committee to take no action in response to the Memorandum 153 of the MOH, which indicates the conditions under which Local Authorities may provide birth control advice for mothers, in cases where further pregnancies would be detrimental to health. We believe the inability to obtain individual advice on this matter from qualified and disinterested medical sources is responsible for much unhappiness and ill health and is calculated to drive overburdened mothers to ignorant advisers and to agencies associated with dubious types of commerce. We therefore urge that the MOH reconsiders his action in the interest of public health and in justice to a section of the community unable to obtain suitable medical advice at its own expense’.’
Signed by: 1 Alderman, 3 Councillors, 14 Reverends, The Bishop of Birmingham, Mrs George Cadbury the ex President of the National council of Evangelical Free Churches, 5 Professors, 5 Doctors, 2 MPs, Prof. Lofthouse, Principal of Handsworth Weslyan College.
The matter was raised again at the City Council and lost by 46 votes to 25.
The Committee noted that authority had already been given to Medical Officers of Child Welfare Centres and Ante Natal Clinics to refer patients needing avoidance of pregnancy on medical grounds to private practitioners or hospital for advice – and that, in Birmingham, would include referrals to the voluntary birth control clinic in the city. In her Annual Report the Chairman of the Birmingham Women’s Welfare Clinic wrote ‘We hope that Medical Officers at Welfare Centres take full advantage of this ruling, and we shall welcome as many patients as they care to send. But if we are to assume this responsibility on behalf of the municipality, then the City of Birmingham must support generously this important piece of social work.’ However no money was forthcoming!
In 1930 there were 660 new patients and 3,718 return visits. At one session there were 43 patients, including 17 newcomers. ‘Such numbers keep our staff on the run’ and the 1 1/2hr session had to stretch until all patients had been seen. Another session was desperately needed but not possible due to lack of funds.Move to Masshouse Lane
In 1931 the clinic moved to larger premises at 22 Masshouse Lane again through the help of Sir John Sumner who arranged the lease and bore the expense of ‘transforming an extremely dirty old house into a thing of beauty in its modest way’. There they had the protection of steel mesh on the windows. The Committee was chaired by Mrs Smith-Ryland, who shortly after moved from Birmingham into the country and was succeeded by Mrs Ethel Emanuel, with 20 committee members who now included Rev. A. Cohen, Councillor Mrs Huggins JP, Canon Guy Rogers and Mrs Julia Rogers as well as the three doctors and one nurse. The committee felt that many women did not come to the clinic because they were not aware of its existence. In the hope of publicising the service Councillor Alderson presented a petition to the City Council from over 3000 working mothers, collected by the Women’s Labour Party and Women’s Co-operative Guilds asking that information on birth control should be made available, but the MOH refused to sanction the giving out of birth control information at Municipal Welfare Centres.
The Centre’s Annual Report for 1931 showed that expenditure had exceeded income by £40, about 1/10 of the income and expenditure account! The Treasurer Mr Mason called for donations to support the Centre.
In 1932 the Departmental Committee on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity published a Final Report showing there were 3805 deaths of women in childbirth, of which at least half could have been prevented; and 514 deaths were due to women giving birth when suffering from organic disease. ‘Where it appears that further childbirth will endanger life, medical advice should be given as to prevention of pregnancy’.
A further breakthrough came in 1932 in Plymouth where the MOH agreed to lend the premises of a Maternity and Child Welfare Centre to the local birth control committee to run a family planning clinic. This set the pattern all over the country but it was only in the 1960s that Birmingham FPA was invited to expand its work all over the city by the public health department.Public Health Committee Refuses Grant
The Birmingham Women’s Welfare Clinic offered its service to the City of Birmingham in an official capacity and asked for a grant towards the cost of the work it was doing for the City from the General Purposes Committee. The Town Clerk replied that he was not in the position to bring this request to the General Purposes Committee because the Medical Officer of Health informed him that the Chairman would resent very much any reference being made to this Committee. So a letter was sent to the Public Health Committee and the response was '‘making of any grant would be subversive to the wishes of the council. I am therefore to state that the Committee are unable to see their way to accede to the application'’ Mrs E. W. Barnes, the wife of the Bishop of Birmingham, expressed indignation at the unimaginative attitude of local authorities who refused to support family planning.
The Birmingham Federation of Medical Women held a meeting at the Centre and Dr Sandilands explained the work of the clinic and the methods of contraception. An after care service was started: reminder forms were sent to patients who failed to return to the clinic for their second visit or at the end of six months from their initial registration. Mrs Ethel Emanuel continued as Chairman during the 30’s. Her Hon. Secrataries were Mrs M. Wharton, 1931-33; Mrs G. P. Mills 1934-7; and Mrs Jessamine Weeks 1937-38, who then went to London during the war years.
By the mid thirties three strands in support of birth control had emerged in Birmingham. The first was to prevent ill health of a serious nature to the mother caused by repeated childbirth; the second was eugenics, ‘birth control is a direct means of race improvement’; and the third was economic – the problem caused by high employment in a big city. Case histories from the Annual Report highlighted these strands – Mrs D was sent by her doctor with a history of eclampsia, having had 30 fits during one confinement; Mrs E had eight children of whom four were mentally defective and she herself suffered from a prolapse; and Mrs B had 14 pregnancies including four miscarriages in 10 years – her husband was an unemployed labourer.
In 1934 Worcester County Council asked permission to send patients from their welfare centres and gave an annual grant of £5. By 1935 an additional weekly session was held at the clinic and, with the exception of Liverpool, it was the only clinic holding three sessions weekly. There were 700 new patients in the year and 2967 patient visits. This year there was a very successful clinic AGM with Prof. Philip Sargent Florence in the Chair and Miss Vera Brittain and Prof. H. F. Humphreys as speakers.
Birmingham municipal birth control clinics started at Dudley Road and Selly Oak Hospitals for those patients with gynaecological conditions or forms of sickness which would make another pregnancy detrimental to health.
A new venture by the Women’s Welfare Centre in 1938 was the Mail Order Service for birth control supplies, for washable sheaths, prescribed caps and spermicidal cream. The Mail Order Service grew into a very large concern, and at the end of the war a part time worker, Mrs Ivy Barlow, was engaged by Mrs Emanuel and Mrs Mollie MacMillan, first for this and then additional duties. She was the first paid worker of a very loyal band of administrative and clerical workers who formed the budding secretariat which grew rapidly.
In 1939 the affiliated birth control clinics throughout the country changed their name to the Family Planning Association.
However Birmingham kept its old name and continued to run its own service in its own way. It did not change its name until 1950 when it became the Birmingham Family Planning Association.
Lella Florence must have continued to find life frustrating on the Birmingham Committee which seemed very reluctant to enlarge its services as she would have liked, and was content to run a smaller service. Not only did a growing number of women demand contraception but middle class women were using contraception themselves perhaps for the first time. Women who married in the 30’s and did not like a clinic often went privately to Dr Helena Wright in London or Dr Mary Winfield in Birmingham. But they never discussed contraception among themselves. Their parents had used coitus interruptus and many middle-class women started to use the cap because they began to make their own way in life unot just as wives and mothers, and needed to space their children.