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Diane Munday

Campaigner and Patron of Humanists UK

“I am proud to have been an active part of the movement that so effectively tackled and defeated religious prejudice and power… To be a Patron of Humanists UK is a great honour and pleases me immensely.”

Munday picDiane Munday was a key member of the Abortion Law Reform Association when the Abortion Law was changed in Britain in 1968. David Steel,then the 28-year-old Liberal Member of Parliament for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, had drawn third place in the ballot in the House of Commons for private members’ bills, and agreed to sponsor an Abortion Reform Bill, the seventh attempt at law reform in Britain since 1952. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill was a major piece of legislation, and, though controversial and strongly opposed by religious lobbies, a generally popular one. Opinion polls were showing a two-thirds majority in favour of termination in some cases, with many women seeing reform of the law as liberating. One of Diane’s fellow campaigners recalled her contribution to the campaign: “One of Diane Munday’s skills was – and is – public speaking. She went around the country making the case to women’s organisations. I remember her underlining how important it was to identify closely with the organisation being addressed, whether it was the National Council of Women or the Co-operative Women’s Guild. Part of this identification was to dress appropriately – and in the 1960s that often meant wearing a hat. This would make the audience feel more comfortable about the fact that your subject – the case for abortion law reform – was both challenging and sensitive.”

Diane has continued to apply her humanist and rationalist principles to the area of medical ethics, and today takes a particular interest in voluntary euthanasia. On three occasions (totalling some 20 years) she been a “carer” of people who wished to die. In the well known case of Diane Pretty, who in 2002 appealed unsuccessfully to the European Court of Human Rights for her husband Brian to be able assist her to commit suicide without fear of prosecution, Diane pointed out the central irrationality in the decision: “It is now legal to commit suicide in the UK: it is illegal to discriminate against the disabled. But in this scenario a person who is prevented from taking their own life as a direct consequence of their disability is clearly discriminated against in a most fundamental way. This makes the law as it stands irrational.” She is involved with the NHS (in the field of diabetes), and is also involved with medical research: for example, she is on a funding committee of the Medical Research Council, is a “peer reviewer” for the Research for Patient Benefit Programme, and sits on a number of committees of CRIPACC (Hertfordshire University’s Centre for Research into Primary & Community Care ). She remains a staunch supporter of women’s right to choose abortion and in October 28, 2007, when there was discussion on changes to abortion legislation, wrote a letter to The Observer:

“It would be interesting to learn who told the Archbishop of Canterbury that ‘most of those who voted for the 1967 Abortion Act did so in the clear belief that they were making provision for extreme and tragic situations’ and ‘started from a strong sense of taking for granted the wrongness of taking unborn life’ (‘Britain’s abortion debate lacks a moral dimension’, Comment, last week).

In the early Sixties, as a campaigner for liberalising the then-draconian abortion restrictions, I spoke publicly to audiences on at least 1,000 occasions about the need for reform.

The driving force was to end back-street and self-induced abortion and to ensure that those who could not afford to pay for a safe termination were not forced to risk their lives and health. Forty years on, those aims have been achieved. As for the nearly 200,000 annual abortions Dr Williams decries, do we really want 200,000 additional births each year? I, for one, am celebrating 40 years of safe, legal abortion and am proud of what I helped to achieve.”

Diane writes about her life and beliefs:

I guess I have always been a humanist but my first positive rejection of religion came around the age of 8 or 9 when the absurdity of a Jewish uncle’s behaviour struck me with full force and has stayed with me ever since. When my mother (a believing but non-practising Jew) cooked ham she invited this uncle to partake of his favourite food. BUT he would never eat ham sandwiches on a Saturday. From then on I questioned although, in my late teens, I really wanted to believe and, as well as visiting churches of various flavours, read a great deal. By chance I came across a book by Thomas Huxley and realised I was not alone in my lack of belief. From there I moved on to Darwin and have never looked back.

In the early 1960’s following a fourth unplanned and unwanted pregnancy I bought a safe abortion in Harley Street and this experience turned me into an abortion law reform campaigner. I joined the then moribund Abortion Law Reform Association and within a year found myself as its vice-chairman, lecturing, broadcasting, writing and debating about abortion: this topic dominated my life for the next thirty years. Following the passing of David Steel’s 1967 Abortion Act, I became General Secretary of ALRA and then moved to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (which I had helped to found) as its press and parliamentary campaigner and spokesperson.

The Ethical Union advertised widely in the 1950s and I joined. When the Ethical Union became Humanists UK I joined the Executive Committee. Those were exciting years, with restrictive laws on homosexuality, family planning, capital punishment, divorce, all coming under successful attack. I am still proud to have been an active part of the movement that so effectively tackled and defeated religious prejudice and power. When my eldest son was called a pagan at our local Church of England village school it was time to turn my attention to campaigning for a state school: it is still here today. As a result of that I was asked to write a regular column “from a humanist view” in the local Thomson evening paper and given free rein to pursue my humanist hobby horses. This provided the sort of notoriety that, when as I stood as a candidate for the County Council, opponents were out on the pavements with banners declaring, ‘She is pro abortion and anti Christ’.

Much the same sentiments were expressed again in 1969 when I was appointed a Justice of the Peace. I like to think that during my thirty three years on the bench – for many years a Deputy Chairman of the main Bench and Chair of the Family Panel – I spread my views and exerted influence in circles not regularly reached by humanism. More recently I have been a Director and Trustee of the Rationalist Press Association. Now I am respectable, but miss the adrenalin when speaking publicly about diabetes. To be a Patron of Humanists UK is a great honour and pleases me immensely.

Diane Munday featured in Radio 4’s “The Reunion” in August 2005, discussing the 1968 campaign to legalise abortion with other members of the Abortion Law Reform Association, Lord Steel,, and Jill Knight, one of the chief opponents of abortion.

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