Margaret Sparrow

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Margaret Sparrow

Sparrow in 2014
Margaret June Muir

(1935-06-25) 25 June 1935 (age 88)
Inglewood, New Zealand
Known forCampaigning for reproductive rights
Peter Charles Methven Sparrow
(m. 1956; died 1982)

Dame Margaret June Sparrow DNZM MBE (née Muir, born 25 June 1935) is a New Zealand medical doctor, reproductive rights advocate, and author.

Early life, family, and education[edit]

Sparrow was born in Inglewood on 25 June 1935 to Daniel James Muir and Jessie Isobel Muir (née McMillan),[1] and was educated at Waitara District High School and New Plymouth Girls' High School.[2] She went on to study at Victoria University College from 1953 to 1955, graduating BSc; the University of Otago from 1957 to 1963, from where she graduated MB ChB; and the University of London, where she completed a Diploma in Venereology in 1976.[1]

In 1956, she married Peter Charles Methven Sparrow, and the couple went on to have two children.[1] Peter Sparrow died in 1982.[1]


Sparrow started her career in health working at the student health centre at Victoria University of Wellington in the late 1960s. At the time, the clinic would only allow contraception to be given to married couples, and she had to go against the wishes of the director of the clinic to put up an information display about contraception.[3]

While working at the clinic, student demand for contraception led to her introducing the morning-after pill and helping students to get abortions.[4] She worked as a medical officer at Student Health until 1981. Between 1977 and 1999 she worked as a visiting venereologist at Wellington Hospital.[2]

Sparrow was the president of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand from 1975 to 1980, and again from 1984 until 2011.[5]

She is a Director of Istar Ltd, a not-for-profit company that imports the abortion pill mifepristone from France. The pill was approved for use in 2001, and allowed women to have medical — rather than surgical — abortions for the first time.[6] No other pharmaceutical company was interested in importing the drug.[7]


In 2015, Sparrow stated that New Zealand's abortion law was out of date and should be reformed:

Our [abortion] law is so old, it’s creaking at the seams ... It was devised at a time when only surgical options were there, people didn’t even dream of having a medical abortion pill you could take.[7]

She is also critical of the way the current abortion system forces women to claim they need abortions on the grounds of a danger to mental health:

You have to have grounds for an abortion, and in New Zealand 98 per cent of the grounds are mental health, which I think is an absolute farce. It’s just ticking boxes, and just putting people into categories, and just pretending that… having an abortion will be for the sake of your mental health. Well, I think that’s all just barriers that are put up.[7]

Honours and awards[edit]

In the 1987 Queen's Birthday Honours, Sparrow was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to medicine and the community,[8] and in 1993 she was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[1] In the 2002 Queen's Birthday and Golden Jubilee Honours, she was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to medicine and the community,[9] and in 2009 she accepted redesignation as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit following the restoration of titular honours by the New Zealand government.[10]

The family planning clinic in Wellington is named after Sparrow.[11] Sparrow was a keen collector of contraceptive devices, which were later donated to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.[12] In 2015–16, Te Papa used them as the core of an exhibition on contraception.[13]


  • Sparrow, Abortion Then & Now: New Zealand Abortion Stories From 1940 to 1980 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2010); ISBN 9780864736321
  • Sparrow, Rough on Women: Abortion in Nineteenth Century New Zealand (Wellington, VUP, 2014); ISBN 9780864739360
  • Sparrow, "Risking their Lives: NZ Abortion Stories 1900-1939" (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2017); ISBN 9781776561636

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Taylor, Alister; Coddington, Deborah (1994). Honoured by the Queen – New Zealand. Auckland: New Zealand Who's Who Aotearoa. p. 345. ISBN 0-908578-34-2.
  2. ^ a b "Margaret June Sparrow profile". Capital & Coast District Health Board. Archived from the original on 3 February 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  3. ^ "Alice Bush and Margaret Sparrow". Te Ara. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  4. ^ "Sex, drugs and country dancing". The Wellingtonian. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  5. ^ "Dame Margaret steps aside from abortion reform group". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 30 March 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  6. ^ "Past President, Dame Margaret Sparrow". ALRANZ. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Mulligan, Jayne (16 August 2015). "The Golden Speculum". Salient magazine. Wellington. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  8. ^ "No. 50950". The London Gazette (4th supplement). 13 June 1987. p. 32.
  9. ^ "Queen's Birthday and Golden Jubilee honours list 2002". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 3 June 2002. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  10. ^ "Special honours list 1 August 2009". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 1 August 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  11. ^ "Margaret Sparrow Clinic - Wellington". Family Planning New Zealand. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  12. ^ Stephanie Gibson (2018). "Evaluation of Contraception: Uncovering the collection of Dame Margaret Sparrow". Tuhinga: Records of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Te Papa. 29: 174–187. ISSN 1173-4337. Wikidata Q106839624.
  13. ^ The Dame Margaret Sparrow Collection,; accessed 21 March 2017.

External links[edit]

  • Profile on the New Zealand Family Planning website
  • Profile on the Capital and Coast District Health Board website
  • Interview on Radio New Zealand National with Wallace Chapman