Aleck William Bourne
(4 June 1886
– 30 December 1974
) was a prominent British gynecologist and writer who is best known for his 1938 trial, a landmark case, for performing an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl rape victim.
Born the only son of the Reverend W. C. Bourne in Barnet
, Bourne was educated at Rydal School
and at Downing College, Cambridge
where, in 1908, he received a first class Natural Science Tripos
. Granted a senior university scholarship, he entered St Mary's Hospital
and, between 1910 and 1911, he had qualified as an MRCS
(as well as obtaining an MB, BCh, Cambridge, and the FRCS England the following year). While at Queen Charlotte's, in cooperation with Professor J. H. Burn, he published research papers on uterine
action in labour
and in response to various drugs. He would held several residential and other appointments at St Mary's, Queen Charlotte's and the Samaritan until the outbreak of the First World War
. In 1912, he would become married to Bessic Hayward, the eldest daughter of G. W. Hayward, and would have three daughters during their marriage.
Enlisting in the British Army, he served as a surgical specialist with the 17th General Hospital in Egypt and the 2nd General Hospital in France between 1914 and 1917 and, in the years following the war, he began a successful consulting practice in obstetrics and gynecology. In 1929, he was elected a foundation member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and, founding its museum in 1938, served as curator of its museum which he built up considerably during the following years.
A yachting and deep sea cruising enthusiast, he was a member of several yacht clubs during the 1930s and, in 1933, won the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club's cup for the best cruiser of the year.
In 14 June 1938, Bourne was arrested after performing an operation without fee at St Mary's Hospital, London
to terminate the pregnancy of six weeks of a 14-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted by five off-duty British soldiers, officers in the Royal Horse Guards
, in a London barracks. She asked at St. Thomas' Hospital
, but was sent away on the grounds that she might be carrying a future prime minister. Tried at the Central Criminal Court
in July 1938, he was acquitted on charges of procuring abortion as his actions were later defended by Lancet as "an example of disinterested conduct in consonance with the highest traditions of the profession"
His defense had been based on the Act of 1861 in which, under British law, only recognized justification for the termination of a pregnancy if the life of the woman was in danger.
Serving as president of the Obstetrical and Gynecological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine
from 1938 to 1939, Bourne later wrote several important books including A Synopsis of Midwifery and Gynecology
, Recent Advances in Obstetrics and Gynecology
with Leslie Williams and was the co-editor of British Obstetric and Gynecological Practice
with Sir Eardley Holland
. An advocate of state medicine, Bourne expressed his views in Health of the Future
(1942), which gained much attention to the issue in the medical field.
During the 1960s, Bourne became a founding member of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children which was organized in opposition to the Abortion Act of 1967.
He would continue serving as consulting gynecologist at St Mary's Hospital and to the Samaritan Hospital for Women as well as consulting obstetric surgeon to Queen Charlotte's Hospital before his eventual retirement and died on 30 December 1974 at the age of 88.