The Man Who Brought Abortion Out of the Dark
I am the widow of a doctor of conscience. His name was Dr Bertram Wainer and he died in 1987. He spent 18 years of his professional life working to ensure that access to abortion was legal, safe and affordable. He did this because in conscience he could not stand aside and watch women die or be maimed by unqualified backyarders or disreputable doctors who worked in the shadows of corruption.
He grew up in the Gorbals, the notorious slums of Glasgow, in the depression and World War II. The posthumous son of a doctor, he nevertheless knew poverty, cold, hunger and the chilling effect of powerlessness. He lived among people with no way of improving their desperate lives and, even as a child, was able to see the injustice of poverty amid plenty. He shared the tenements with families full of children they could not feed and women brutalised by despair and by their husbands. He was one of the many children sent to school hungry and wearing rags.
He came to Australia after serving in the armed forces, and studied medicine. His first years as a doctor were in the army where he became a lieutenant-colonel running the military hospital in Brisbane. He knew nothing about abortion except that the women’s hospitals he had trained in had wards full of women with injuries and sepsis from abortion, and that women died. He thought it was normal.