Pro-choice activists stand up to organised shaming

Supporters of women's right to choose protest outside St Marys Cathedral on March 26. Photo: Pip Hinman

Supporters of abortion rights gathered outside St Mary’s Cathedral on March 26 to declare their support for choice.

The action was organised to counter the annual anti-choice “Day of the Unborn Child” event, described as “a peaceful march to protect preborn babies”. In reality, it is designed to perpetrate myths and shame anyone thinking of, or who has had, an abortion.

The pro-choice action was organised by the University of Sydney Women’s Collective, the University of New South Wales Women’s Collective and Labour for Choice among others. Supporters made clear that neither the church nor the state should be able to interfere with such a personal and sometimes difficult decision.

Katie Thorburn, co-Women’s Officer of Sydney University Women’s collective told Green Left Weekly: “The protest comes at a critical time. We must protest the church and alt-right conservatives who want to keep us in the dark ages of backyard abortions.”

Imogen Grant, co-Women’s Officer Sydney University described the event as “a shameless display of anti-woman and anti-choice sentiment”.  “It comes at a time when [NSW MLC] Fred Nile wishes to introduce foetal personhood legislation. Abortion should be free, accessible, and safe without any apologies”, she told Green Left Weekly.

Greens NSW MLC Mehreen Faruqi told the protest she intended to put her private member’s bill to decriminalise abortion to the parliament in May. Labor Sydney City Councillor Linda Scott told the protest she hoped MPs would support Faruqi’s bill and Labor MLC Penny Sharpe’s bill for safe zones around abortion clinics.

Faruqi told Green Left Weekly that pro-choice advocates need to “band together” to “convince politicians that abortion is a choice, not a crime”.

“NSW lags way behind most other states and territories that have decriminalised abortion and enacted safe access zone outside reproductive health clinics”, Faruqi said.  

“It is now time to change the 100-year-old outdated laws … and make sure once and for all that it is women, not the church, nor the state, who can make decisions about their reproductive health with full legal certainty.”

After a provocation by several young male organisers of the anti-choice action, the pro-choice contingent marched to NSW Parliament where several young women eloquently expressed the dismay of their generation that a decision about carrying a pregnancy to term was not ultimately theirs.

They called for more and better sex education, greater access to contraception and an end to the stigma of abortion. Speaker after speaker debunked the myths surrounding abortion, including those perpetrated by sections of the church. They pointed to the failures of the church and hypocrisy of those purporting to uphold Christian values.

One young woman movingly recounted the judgemental approach from pharmacists when she requested the “morning after pill”, Plan B. While these pills are available, as are abortions after a 1971 ruling by Justice Levine, abortion remains a crime under the NSW Crimes Act and doctors and women can be prosecuted.

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