Abortion, Corruption & Cops: The Bertram Wainer Story

SBS • 2006

The extraordinary life and work of Bertram Wainer, a doctor who fought to make abortion accessible, affordable and safe in Melbourne in the late 1960s.

In 1967 a young woman staggered into Dr Bertram Wainer’s Melbourne surgery seeking emergency medical attention after a backyard abortion. She was desperately ill yet too afraid to go to hospital.

For Wainer this was the start of a long, hard struggle to overturn laws that made abortion an offence punishable by up to 15 years in jail and forced women to turn to unskilled operators.

In the process, Wainer uncovered a web of corruption involving highly paid doctors, backyard abortionists and high-ranking police officers. It started out as a story of secret love affairs, crooked deals and double-crosses and rapidly became a desperate game of cat-and-mouse played out in clandestine meetings and phone-tapping sessions designed to trap the corrupt police.

Faced by a government which refused to address the problem Wainer decided to put the law to the test by performing abortions himself and forcing the issue into the headlines. This would lead to several attempts against his life and those of his supporters, until finally public pressure forced the government to announce the first major public inquiry into a state police force.

Abortion was still a threat to women’s health so in 1972 Dr Wainer decided to establish Australia’s first public abortion clinic. After four years of desperate struggle, abortion in Victoria was finally accessible, affordable and safe.

Thirty years later the law remains unchanged.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with John Moore Productions. Developed and produced with the assistance of Film Victoria in association with SBS Independent.

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