family planning movement

Family planning enabled people to avoid the large numbers of children of the Victorian period (AOT, PH30/1/288)

The family planning movement in Tasmania arose from a nationwide struggle for the rights of individuals to access information and services to enable them to make choices in regard to controlling their own fertility. Politicians frequently quoted the phrase 'Populate or Perish', and the Tasmanian coat of arms (1917) still carries the words 'Ubertus et Fidelitas' (Fertility and Faithfulness). The right of every child to be born wanted, as stated in the United Nations Resolution on Human Rights (1968),1 was rarely considered by policy makers.

Until the 1970s effective methods of contraception had been available only from family doctors and gynaecologists, many of whom gave advice only according to their own prejudices and beliefs. Hence, endeavours to widen the availability of contraception were strongly resisted.

Tasmania was the second-last Australian state to establish a family planning association.2 The main proponent was Colin Wendell-Smith, Professor of Anatomy, with strong support from women's groups, social workers, and many women doctors. The inaugural meeting of the Family Planning Association of Tasmania was held in 1972, followed by the opening of clinics in 1973 in Hobart and Launceston. The steering committee was broad-based, with the Australian Medical Association, the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, and, at one time, three professors participating. Sister Pat Hewitt, with a Churchill Fellowship in family planning, was the mainstay of the Association for many years.

Attempts to start a Family Planning Association clinic in Burnie were strongly opposed, but a hospital-based clinic was started, as a teaching facility, at the North-Western General Hospital in Burnie in 1976, and continues to this day. In 1986 a Family Planning clinic opened in Cooee, moving to Burnie in 1992.

The Family Planning Association of Tasmania has thrived, changing its focus more towards education of doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. Administratively, it was strengthened by the work of Chief Executive Officer Paul Duncombe, who was also responsible for successful lobbying for the repeal, in 1987, of the Act of 1941 which had forbidden the advertising of contraceptives, and for abortion law reform. In 20032004 over 8000 people participated in the Association's community education or professional development courses, and nearly 13,000 clients attended clinics for sexual and reproductive health assistance.3

The family planning movement, with the motto 'Choice, not Chance', continues as a potent professional force providing leadership and expertise in order to enhance the sexual health and well-being of all Tasmanians.4

Further reading: S Siedlecky and D Wyndham, Populate and perish. Australian women's fight for birth control, Sydney, 1990.

Mary Kille

1 . United Nations Conference on Human Rights. 1968. UNDoc. A/Conf32/41 Resolution XVII.
2. Siedlecky and Wyndham, p 200.
3. Family Planning Tasmania website
4. Family Planning Tasmania annual report 20032004.