You may have heard of the UK’s oldest abortion centre which, after 50 years of business, recently closed down in Birmingham. You may have heard how pro-life activists had been praying outside its gates for decades but have you heard the story behind its founding or indeed the story behind the largest abortion provider in the UK, BPAS?

Martin Cole

In 1961 a man called Martin Cole came back to the UK after a while spent teaching in Nigeria. Upon his return to the UK he settled in Birmingham and secured a position at Aston University as a lecturer in genetics and reproductive biology. He reported how students would come to him for advice in matters relating to sex/relationships. Considering the statements he publicly made that it was good for teens to be promiscuous and that abortion was a ‘rite of passage’, we can imagine the type of advice he was giving.

Dr Cole soon joined The Abortion Law Reform Association, chairing the Birmingham branch, and became a sexual rights campaigner. He campaigned nationally for abortion rights and in 1964 he co-founded the Birmingham Brook Advisory Clinic to give women advice on ‘sexual health’ ie preventing pregnancy. This organization still stands today and acts in part as an abortion referral agency.

Even after the passing of the Abortion Act it was extremely hard, if not impossible, to find an NHS doctor willing to approve an abortion in the West Midlands, this was largely due to the influence of Hugh MacLaren a Catholic professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Birmingham University. Partly because of this situation Cole set up a referral agency with his friends, Professor Francois Lafitte and Dr Tony Brierley, to refer their clients to London as it was so hard to find anyone who would perform an abortion locally. They called their organisation The Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service, later to become The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). The agency was originally run from Cole’s own living room.

In 1969 Cole established the Institute for Sex Education and Research. He ran this also from his home in Moseley. It was said to be a centre dealing with sexual dysfunction and he claimed to be a ‘sexologist and marital therapist’, creating a ‘treatment’ where ‘sex surrogates’ were used to ‘help patients overcome psychological and physical barriers to sexual intercourse’ – in short, a type of legalised brothel! He claimed the number 1 ‘teacher’ at this centre was his then 3rd wife who he met where he taught at Aston University, she was a student there and 16 years his junior.

1960’s sex education class

In that same year, Cole wrote and directed the film “Growing Up’ which wasn’t released until 1971. It was a sex education film for schools which depicted real couples engaging in sexual intercourse and a video of a young female teacher masturbating on screen. A version of the film was shown to Aston University students where teachers and pupils alike gave it positive feedback. The film caused outrage in the press and amongst prominent politicians though and was later withdrawn. Birmingham city council banned the film being shown in its city’s schools under the 1964 Obscene Publications Act.

Also in 1971 Cole had a book published titled ‘Fundamentals of Sex’, this too provoked controversy as it contained explicit photographs.

It was in late 1969 that Cole turned Calthorpe Old People’s Home in Edgbaston into Calthorpe Clinic, a private abortion centre, with the help of his friend Dr Philip Cauthery. This was the first centre in the UK to open exclusively for abortions and helped end Cole’s concerns about sending women to London for abortions because no one from the NHS in Birmingham would perform them. At its peak, Calthorpe clinic had a caseload of 10,000 clients annually, and in 2007 was the single busiest abortion centre in the UK.

Cole was a member of the British Eugenics Society – Remember it was Calthorpe Clinic which was at the centre of the sex-selective (eugenics) abortion sting orchestrated in an undercover operation by The Telegraph. Remember also the eugenic connections of both Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes, the two other well known figures with connections to abortion organisations.

So Cole arguably fostered and encouraged promiscuity or immoral behaviour with the unofficial advice he gave to students at Aston University, his work nationally as a sexual rights campaigner, through advice dished out at the Brook Advisory Clinic, through his membership of the eugenics society, through his pregnancy advisory service (BPAS) run from his home, through the Institute for Sex education and Research also run from his home, through his obscene sex-education film and explicit book. Those who became pregnant and sought abortions would most likely come to his abortion centre as it was the primary site of terminations. This doesn’t seem a good moral or ethical foundation for a centre (Calthorpe Abortion Clinic) or an organisation (BPAS). Calthorpe Clinic is no more, let’s hope that one day we can say the same for BPAS!

Cole lived out his last years alone, surrounded in his house by fertility statues. This is the man who helped to found the longest running and busiest abortion centre in the UK and the largest abortion provider in the UK. Through Cole and his work, you could say that Birmingham has the ignominious title of being the founding city for abortion in the UK. Cole worked on a national as well as local level to push for abortion rights and it was said that ‘in his campaigns across Britain to legalise abortion, he found that hostility to reform appeared to be the most concentrated in Birmingham’ – long may this ‘hostility to reform’ continue!

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