Melbourne City Council harasses abortion clinic defenders

Every day anti-abortion activists have harangued and stalked women going into the clinic or just walking past.

When the Victorian Parliament decriminalised abortion two years ago, the battle was finally over, right? Then why is the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne still targeted by anti-abortion zealots? And why, after five years, has Melbourne City Council started harassing clinic defenders, potentially handing a victory to those same zealots?

Since August 2005, Radical Women and the Campaign for Women’s Reproductive Rights have mobilised monthly in defence of the Fertility Control Clinic from the “Helpers of God’s Precious Infants”. By positioning ourselves outside the clinic, the fanatics are forced to stand on the opposite side of the wide and busy Wellington Parade.

The defence line has had to fend off misogynist thugs but, until now, not state authorities.

In March, a local laws officer of Melbourne City Council threatened to confiscate our sound system, allegedly for breaking amplification bylaws. We called the council’s bluff, and continue to belt out pro-choice messages from behind our banner: “Free abortion on demand now!”

A placard inviting passers by to “honk if you’re pro-choice” makes for a lively morning of beeps and thumbs up.

In October, the officer issued a compliance notice, this time for “erecting an advertising sign” (our banner), an offence with fines of up to $1250.

But Melbourne City Council has shown no concern that women-hating creeps harass women and clinic staff every single day. Every day, for decades, anti-abortion activists have harangued and stalked women going into the clinic or just walking past. In 2001, a fanatic killed a security guard there.

The endless harassment led the Fertility Control Clinic to lobby the state government to set up a “bubble zone” that would prohibit all protesters from approaching the clinic. Clinic staffers are desperately seeking an end to the persecution.

A state-imposed bubble zone would not stop the harassment. The fanatics don’t care about the law. But it would remove the right of pro-choice activists to organise.

It’s pro-choice activists — not Melbourne City Council or the Victorian government — that the clinic should look to. No government, Liberal or Labor, has championed abortion rights. It took 50 years of tough, tenacious struggle by grassroots pro-choice campaigners to remove abortion from the Crimes Act.

Having fought so hard, pro-choice activists are not going to stand aside as the anti-choice bigots work to recriminalise abortion. We’re even less likely to bend to the will of a bureaucratic city council administration.

Stop the anti-abortion bigots! What is needed to do this is a strong, democratic reproductive rights movement that fights for everything a woman needs to make real choices — from abortion rights to secure housing, healthcare, decent jobs, fully-paid parental leave and equal pay.

Right now, pro-choice activists can join the clinic defence on the fourth Saturday of each month. See you at the next defence on November 27, 10am at 118 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne. For more information, phone Radical Women on (03) 9388 0062 or email radicalwomen@optusnet.com.au .

[Debbie Brennan is the Melbourne organiser for Radical Women.]

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