Dr Sheila Abdullah obituary

Born 1937, died 2020. A graduate of the School of Medicine Class of 1961.


My mother, Sheila Abdullah, who has died aged 82 from cancer, was a GP and a socialist feminist. She was involved in the start of the women’s liberation movement in Liverpool in the 1960s and fought for women’s control over their bodies, and their right to free contraception and abortion on demand.

Sheila was born in Leeds to Leonard Marshall, a joiner, and Nellie (nee Taylor), who worked in a laundry. She attended Aireborough grammar school in Guiseley, Leeds, and was the first person in her family to go to university. Studying medicine at Sheffield University, she met Mohamed Abdullah, a postgraduate student from Iraq, and they were married in 1959. After qualifying she moved to Liverpool to work as a GP in a single-handed practice in the inner city, combining raising four children with a full-time job.

She was instrumental in expanding family planning services in Liverpool, volunteering at the Brook Advisory Centre for young people. Her experience of seeing women die from backstreet abortions made her a passionate defender of abortion rights through the Merseyside Abortion Campaign. Around this time Sheila was part of the birth of the women’s liberation movement, both locally and also taking part in the first national conference held in Oxford in 1970.

Sheila later joined Princes Park health centre in Toxteth. This was a large practice in one of the most deprived areas of Liverpool and was pioneering in its day, employing various other health professionals to provide a holistic service. Partners shared socialist principles and a commitment to support patients living with addictions, mental health issues and poverty.

Sheila had a reputation as a committed, caring doctor who went the extra mile for patients. In 1986 she moved back to Sheffield and became a partner in a co-operative practice in Crookes for the remainder of her working life. She continued to be active in organisations including Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, National Assembly of Women and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and was a fierce opponent of the Iraq wars. As part of a humanitarian delegation she visited Baghdad in 2000 and met many of Mohamed’s family for the first time.

Sheila had an enthusiasm for life and a passion for social justice and politics. She was a loyal friend and enjoyed travelling, writing essays crammed on to postcards from wherever she roamed.

She is survived by Mohamed, four daughters Hooda, Nadia, Wajda and Samya, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Submitted by Sheila's daughter Hooda and originally featured in The Guardian.