... and ain't I a woman?: Different methods, same message

Issue 

and ain't i a woman?

... and ain't I a woman?: Different methods, same message

The sniper-style murder of another US abortion provider confirms the systematic nature of the recent campaigns by North American anti-choice fanatics to deny women access to abortion [see article, page 21].

In Australia too, the anti-choicers are still at it, if not so violently as yet. Although their methods haven't reached the intensity of their US counterparts, intimidation of abortion providers and women seeking abortions has been a favoured method for many years, punctuated by the occasional, and often unfortunately successful, legislative attempts to further restrict the already limited access to abortion, which is still a crime in most states.

While the violence of the anti-choice brigade here is not as extreme as in the US and Canada, the denial of the basic right to control one's body is a form of violence in itself. The subjection of women to unwanted pregnancy or the often horrific consequences of unsanitary and life-threatening backyard abortions is a consequence of the decisions of a vocal minority.

Opinion poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Australians, both women and men, support a woman's right to choose abortion. The minority who would see women treated as breeders, rather than responsible individuals with life choices to make, place women at the bottom of the human ladder.

Despite representing a minority view, the anti-choice bill, introduced into ACT parliament by independent Legislative Assembly member, former football star and former cop Paul Osborne, may be formally debated in the assembly within the next few months or early in 1999.

This bill attempts to reduce women's access to abortion so severely that, of the 1700-2000 women who have abortions in the ACT each year, it is estimated that if the Osborne bill becomes law, only 10-15 would be able to meet the criteria to access safe abortion.

Leading up to any legislative debate in the ACT, we need to be ready to show the strength of majority opinion. The mobilisations of the women's liberation movement of the past 30 years and, most recently, successful marches against sexual violence around the country at Reclaim the Night — actions involving thousands of women and supportive men — have proven that we can organise effectively in defence of women's rights. This enthusiasm and organisation will be needed if the ACT bill and other anti-choice initiatives are to be defeated.

Mobilisations in Canberra organised by ACT Pro-Choice have already involved up to 3000 participants in demonstrations to highlight the dangers of the Osborne bill. Further action will be needed not only to defeat the bill, but also to win the fight for abortion to be removed from the Crimes Act altogether.

The vast majority of women around the world have not yet achieved full control over their reproductive choices. Women must have this to be able to participate fully in society, and to join the struggle to change it for the better.

By Margaret Allum