Seminar Series: Contraceptive Decision-Making and Women with Intellectual Disabilities

Jan Walmsley

People like us don’t have babies. No one in the centre does apart from staff. Some people have their stomachs taken out (Atkinson and Williams 1990: 175).

This quotation is taken from a women’s group discussion in a day centre for people with intellectual disabilities in the 1980s. Although spoken over 20 years ago, the words of this young woman focus attention on a seldom discussed issue that will be explored in this seminar: who makes decisions about contraception and reproduction when a woman is labelled as intellectually disabled?

The seminar will set the historical context of reproductive control by highlighting former practices which overtly aimed to prevent women with intellectual disabilities from conceiving. This will be contrasted with a current legislative framework that strongly endorses the human and reproductive rights of women with intellectual disabilities.

Jan Walmsley, Visiting Chair from The Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, will present findings from two sources of ongoing research into this issue by a team at The Open University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care:

  • a survey that invited third parties involved in supporting women with intellectual disabilities with contraceptive decision-making to share their views and experiences
  • a current project which seeks to elicit how women with intellectual disabilities experience the process of decision-making about contraception, including the methodological and ethical challenges of undertaking this research


Jan Walmsley is an independent consultant, teacher and researcher with honorary positions at The Open University, the University of Southampton and London South Bank University.

She is a founder member of the Open University’s Social History of Learning Disability Research group (founded in 1994), which pioneered an inclusive approach to furthering the history of learning disability through publications and conferences.

Jan is also the author of numerous publications relating to learning disability and her books include:

  • Inclusive Research with People with Learning Disabilities: Past Present and Futures (2003), with Kelley Johnson
  • Care Control and Citizenship (2006) with John Welshman
  • People with Intellectual Disabilities: Towards a Good Life (2010) with Kelley Johnson

Jan is currently undertaking research with women with intellectual disabilities into decision-making about using contraception, funded by the Open Society Foundation.

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