Rallies and actions around Australia marked the seventh International Day of Action for Women's Health on May 28. The theme for the day, coordinated by the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights, was women's right to choose abortion.
Abortion is illegal in most states. In NSW, the Crimes Act, which outlaws abortion, was passed in 1900. Liberal interpretations of the law have widened access, but the recent ruling by Justice Newman has highlighted the fact that abortion remains illegal and could result in police prosecution.
Freya Pinney reports from Wollongong that a vocal crowd of 50 people, many with children, gathered outside the Department of Public Prosecutions to demand free, legal abortion and the resignation of the NSW attorney general, John Hannaford, who has been misrepresenting the law on abortion in NSW. Pink balloons with "Women's health" written on them were released.
Sharon Callaghan from the Women's Centre and Dr Margaret Perrott from the Democratic Socialist Party, the only party in Australia without a conscience vote on abortion, spoke in favour of an ongoing campaign to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. There are plans for a rally in August with the campaign building up in the period before state elections next year.
Sujatha Fernandes reports from Sydney that nearly 500 people attended the rally in Town Hall square. Pro-choice lawyer Virginia Bell briefly described the legal implications of the Newman ruling, stressing the need for repeal rather than reform of anti-abortion laws. The accounts of unsanitary and dangerous backyard abortions given by the next speaker, GP Dr Jean Edwards, highlighted the real need for a repeal campaign.
NOWSA (Network of Women Students Australia) speaker Zanny Begg spoke of the urgent need to make young women aware that abortion is illegal. She also spoke of the backlash by conservative forces as a result of the Newman decision. The turnout by the Right to Lifers who had come to disrupt the rally made this point obvious. Paula Abud from Immigrant Women's Speak-out and Helen Westwood from WAAC also spoke, and the rally ended with songs.
The rally heard messages of support from the Reverend Dorothy McMahon, actor Noni Hazelhurst, journalist Adele Horin and Justice Elizabeth Evatt. The rally was sponsored by the Abortion Rights Network, the Democratic Socialist Party, Resistance, Humanist Society of NSW, Women's Electoral Lobby, the Greens NSW, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, NOWSA and WAAC among others.
From Canberra, Alison Dellit reports that 200 people attended the pro-choice action jointly organised by the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance. With no abortion clinic in the ACT it is estimated that 3000 women are forced to travel to Sydney each year.
In his address to the rally, MLA Wayne Berry, who intends to introduce a private member's bill to repeal Canberra's abortion laws, said, "It is outrageous that in 1994 we are still talking about repeal".
Rally organiser and DSP member Lara Pullin said that it was important to maintain a movement in order that the bill is passed. "The minister for health, ALP MLA Terry Connolly, does not support the decriminalisation of abortion and can hide behind the conscience vote", Pullin said. A series of rallies are planned.
In Adelaide, a vocal protest called for the repeal of all abortion laws attracted passers-by who signed petitions drawn up by the newly formed Adelaide University Pro-choice Club. Four extreme right-wingers from National Action carrying pictures of foetuses only motivated more to sign the petition and listen to the speak-out.
Margaret Allen reports that a speak-out organised by the Newcastle Abortion Action Campaign in James St Mall, Hamilton, drew passers-by signing petitions and letters addressed to the NSW minister for women's affairs and the premier.
Joan Webster from the Working Women's Centre spoke against forcing women into backyard abortions. Chris Budden, a minister of the Uniting Church, said that women's choices had to be broadened, to allow them to make a choice that was legal. Dr Kamala Emanuel reflected on the safety and medical aspects of abortion. The action finished with Gail Dedman singing "The Backyard Abortion Blues".
About 60 people rallied in Brisbane's Queen St Mall on May 27 to call on the Goss government to repeal abortion laws. Speakers included Unna Liddy from Children by Choice, Andre Stark from the University of Queensland Pro-Choice Club and Ana Kailis from the Democratic Socialist Party.
Unna Liddy spoke of the need for an ongoing campaign to demand women's right to choose. "Worldwide, illegal abortion is the single biggest contributor to maternal mortality. This is why public attention must continue on the abortion issue."
Stark highlighted the fact that women, not governments, politicians or the church, should control their bodies and their fertility. According to Kailis, "The ALP won government on a platform of abortion law reform, but since then has refused to implement the policy. We cannot trust politicians to act on our behalf but must continue with a grassroots campaign to repeal abortion laws."
[See the calendar of events on pages 30-31 for pro-choice campaign meetings and events in your city.]