Department of Health and Social Security and Scottish Home and Health Department: Surveys of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act (Lane Committee) 1972-1974: Datasets

Reference:
BN 95
Title:
Department of Health and Social Security and Scottish Home and Health Department: Surveys of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act (Lane Committee) 1972-1974: Datasets
Description:

The Surveys of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act is comprised of data collected from a random sample of women living in England, Scotland and Wales, who had abortions in the Spring of 1972. The data was concentrated on the experience of these women in the process of abortion, including consultations, delays, and quality of treatment.

The main study was preceded by a pilot study which was carried out in February 1972 and covered 10 hospitals in which a total of 90 interviews were attempted. Out of this group of 90, 71 patients were interviewed successfully, some patients were from abroad and were not interviewed as the survey was restricted to UK based patients, others either refused to be interviewed or their doctors were not willing to allow them to be interviewed.

The main survey was carried out during March and April 1972, interviews with 272 patients were held in a total of 27 hospitals. More detail about the sample design covering the selection of hospitals and the selection of patients to interview within the selected hospitals and clinics can be found by referring to the published report, Report of the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act; Vol III - Survey of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act by Ann Cartwright and Susan Lucas. Copies of the survey questionnaires for the pilot and main surveys can also be found in the catalogues of individual datasets.

The data gathered in the survey has been separated into three parts which have been treated as individual datasets covering patient details, consultations with doctors and consultations with other professionals.

The datasets in this series are available to download. Links to individual datasets can be found at piece level.

Date:
1972
Arrangement:

Details of the original hardware, Operating System, application software, and user interface are not known.

Logical structure and schema: There are three datasets each consisting of a single table, all three datasets are derived from the survey questionnaire. Each dataset covers a different aspect of the survey; this arrangement reflects the way in which the data was received by the National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD) from the University of Essex Data Archive. The data within each dataset can be linked to the data within the other two datasets, however, since NDAD has inferred that relationships exist between each table.

How data was originally captured and validated: Data was collected by means of face-to-face interviews with patients in the participating hospitals. Copies of the survey questionnaires for the main survey and the pilot survey and explanatory notes for the interviewers can be found in the catalogues of individual datasets.

Data in the Survey of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act dataset is closed in that once collected the data was archived and was not subsequently overwritten.

Validation performed after transfer: Details of the content and transformation validation checks performed by NDAD on the Survey of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act datasets are recorded in the catalogues of individual datasets.

Related Material:
Paper records of the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act are in: MH 156
Held by:
The National Archives, Kew
Copies held at:
Copies of the datasets remain at the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex where they were given the Group reference number 33054 and Study reference numbers 401, 423 and 424.
Former references:
in The National Archives:   CRDA/32
Legal status:
Public Record
Language:
English
Creator:
Department of Health and Social Security, 1968-1988
Scottish Home and Health Department, 1962-1995
Physical description:
4 datasets and documentation
Restriction on use:
The Survey of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act dataset is subject to Crown Copyright; copies may be made for private study and research only.
Access conditions:
Open
Immediate source of acquisition:
In 2010 the United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets
Custodial history:
These datasets were deposited by the Department of Health and Social Security at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Data Archive, University of Essex, before 1976. Copies of the datasets were transferred to the United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD). In 2010 they were deposited at The National Archives (TNA).
Selection and destruction information:
All three datasets selected in entirety.
Accruals:
The series is not accruing.
Publication note:
'Survey of Abortion Patients for the Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act' Lane Committee Report, vol. 3 (London: HMSO, 1974)
Unpublished finding aids:
Extent of documentation: 21 documents
Administrative / biographical background:

The Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act (The Lane Committee) was set up under the chairmanship of Dame Elizabeth Justice Lane (the UK's first woman High Court Judge) in order to assess the effectiveness of the application of the 1967 Abortion Act. Its terms of reference were 'to review the operation of the Abortion Act 1967 and on the basis that the conditions for legal abortion contained in...the Act remain unaltered, to make recommendations.' The committee's final report states that one of its aims was to investigate how far some of the hopes and fears expressed concerning the working of the Act had been realised. The report, which included the findings of this survey, was presented to Parliament in 1974.

Abortion in England and Wales was first made illegal in 1803 when it was made a criminal offence carrying penalties of up to life imprisonment. At that time abortion was a far greater danger to the mother than childbirth and many women died as a result. In order to reduce the numbers of maternal deaths, the legal position with regard to abortion was clarified in 1861 under Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act which made abortion a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment from three years to life, even when performed for medical reasons. The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is still in place and the current law simply provides exceptions to the 1861 Act by clarifying those situations when an abortion can be legal. The Infant Life Preservation Act 1929 amended the law so that abortion would no longer be regarded as a felony if it was carried out in good faith for the sole purpose of preserving the life of the mother. This Act made it illegal to kill a child 'capable of being born live', and set 28 weeks as the age at which a foetus was assumed to be able to survive. In England, in 1938, Dr Alex Bourne deliberately challenged the law in order to clarify what constituted legal practice in relation to abortion when the abortion was not directly necessary to save the woman from death. He carried out an abortion on a 14 year old rape victim, and at the subsequent trial brought evidence that if the young woman had been forced to continue with the pregnancy she would have become a mental and physical wreck. Dr Bourne was acquitted, the judge ruling that he had acted in the 'honest belief' that the abortion would 'preserve the life of the mother'. The 'Bourne Judgement' opened the way for other doctors to interpret the law more flexibly because it established that preserving a woman's life could mean more than literally preventing her death. In 1966-67 the Liberal MP David Steel (later Lord Steel of Aikwood) sponsored an abortion law reform bill which became law in 1967. The Abortion Act 1967 came in to effect on 27 April 1968 and permits the termination of a pregnancy under certain clearly defined criteria. Since then there has been one important change to the 1967 Act. The upper time limit for abortion had been taken as 28 weeks because the 1929 Infant Life Preservation Act stated that after this a child was capable of being born alive. But advances in medicine have meant that it is now possible, in some cases, to keep a baby alive born after about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Because of this, it was generally agreed that the Abortion Act should be amended to introduce a time limit in line with current medical practice. Consequently Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 amended the Abortion Act 1967 by introducing an upper time limit of 24 weeks for most abortions.

The Institute for Social Studies in Medical Care was established in 1970 as an independent non-profit research organisation. Prior to 1970 it was the Medical Care Research Unit of the Institute of Community Studies in Bethnal Green. Its aim was to study the social aspects of health care in ways that had a bearing on social policy. Within this rather broad field the institute tended to concentrate on three principal areas of research: general practice, maternity services and the needs of elderly people. The Institute held charitable status and was funded by a variety of organisations including OPCS, the Ministry of Health and the US Public Health Service on a project basis. From 1975 it received a rolling grant from the DHSS in addition to grants for specific projects from other sources. Nothing further is known about the Institute, it no longer appears to be active.

After the Abortion Act 1967 came in to force in April 1968 the abortion rate rose significantly. In 1969 5.3 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 and resident in England and Wales were carried out; by 1971 the figure had risen to 10.1 abortions per 1000 women. In 1971 43% of abortions were carried out privately i.e. outside the NHS and 23% were carried out after 13 weeks gestation. These three factors - increasing numbers of abortions, high proportions of which were being carried out outside the NHS and relatively late in pregnancy - led to the Lane Committee requesting that this study be carried out. The study was performed by carrying out face to face interviews with a random sample of women living in England, Scotland and Wales who had abortions in the spring of 1972 in order to find out about whom they had consulted when seeking an abortion, the number of consultations, delays in the process and the reasons for them and what the women thought about how they had been treated.

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