When renowned obstetrics professor Caroline de Costa first began studying medicine, the Australian Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists didn’t accept women into its program.
The year was 1964, and then 16-year-old Caroline was unsure whether she even wanted to be a doctor. She deferred her study at the University of Sydney and embarked on a trip to Europe. She eventually settled in Dublin and in 1967, she recommenced her undergraduate medical degree at Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons.
The late 1960s was a period of huge social change around the world but as Caroline studied, she learnt that there were still a lot of improvements needed in women’s health.
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"I was very sure that [obstetrics] was what I wanted to do, to practice, but also to be active in improving women's reproductive health, because there were a lot of things wrong," Caroline told host Mia Freedman on this week’s episode of No Filter.
"The law for a start, and the availability of contraceptive services, and it was illegal to have an abortion at that time. There were lots of problems with choice in childbirth."
To help agitate for change, Caroline was active in the Irish women's rights movement, taking part in protests and demonstrations while studying and raising her first child.
"I was involved in several events that drew attention to the lack of contraception in Ireland. Perhaps the most interesting one was known as the 'Contraceptive Train'.
"In 1971, 47 of us women took the train from Dublin to Belfast in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. We planned to buy contraceptives and bring them back into the country, which was illegal. And we announced that we were going to do this as we wanted to get caught.