My mum opened up to me a year ago about the abortion she had 30 years ago. Before this she had kept it a total secret, for fear of being judged and disappointing her family. She had just finished her RAF officer training when she found out she was pregnant. Until the end of 1990 it was the Force’s policy to discharge any women from service on the grounds of pregnancy. This left many servicewomen with an ultimatum of terminating the pregnancy or losing their job.
In total, 5700 women in the UK were dismissed from the armed forces on the grounds of pregnancy between 1978 and August 1990. These women were told that they could reapply for their jobs after the birth of their child, however they did not have a right to return. In fact only 22 servicewomen successfully re-enlisted after maternity leave during that time. The ministry of defence ended up paying more than £50 million in compensation to all the servicewomen they discharged on pregnancy prior to August 1990.
This work explores the difficult decision many servicewomen had to make, using my mum’s personal experience to help me better understand the complex situation surrounding pregnancy within the armed forces. I have used this work as a way for my mum to finally open up about her abortion, helping to lift some of the guilt she has carried and leading me to better understand the relationship I hold with her.