Rallies planned around the country for abortion rights

Abortion rights rally, Brisbane, May 2009. For years women in Queensland have been told that the state’s anti- abortion laws w

Campaigners for women’s reproductive rights are gearing up for a day of protest on October 9. A young woman and her partner from Cairns face charges under Queensland’s 19th century criminal code for procuring an abortion. The trial date is set for October 12. A National Day of Action (NDA) will be marked by protests around the country, demanding that all charges against the couple be dropped.

The NDA is the initiative of three organisations: the Pro-Choice Action Collective in Brisbane, the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign in Sydney and Radical Women in Melbourne.

Rallies are planned in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney on October 9. A vigil will begin outside Cairns Courthouse on October 11, organised by Pro-Choice Cairns.

The 19-year-old Cairns woman and her 21-year-old partner were both charged in April 2009. She is charged with intentionally procuring an abortion and he is charged with supplying the means of procuring the abortion. If convicted she faces up to seven years’ imprisonment and he faces up to three.

This is the first time in at least 50 years that a woman has been charged in Australia for having an abortion. In Queensland, this is the first abortion-related prosecution since two doctors were tried in 1986.

The charges faced by the young couple set a very dangerous precedent. For years women in Queensland have been told that the state’s anti-abortion laws would not be used. The case highlights the urgency of removing abortion from the criminal code and ensuring that access to this essential medical procedure is enshrined in law.

In Victoria, despite every imaginable obstacle being put in the way of decriminalisation, abortion was finally legalised two years ago. This win was due to tenacious campaigning, principally by grassroots activists. But, despite these reforms, Melbourne’s two main abortion providers are hounded relentlessly by religious fanatics. These zealots are currently targeting the Fertility Control Clinic through their misnamed “40 days for life”.

The Melbourne October 9 rally coincides with the second anniversary of the passage of laws that removed abortion from the Crimes Act. The anti-choice “Right to Life” group is organising a “march for the babies” on that date, as part of a campaign to recriminalise abortion.

Debbie Brennan, the Melbourne organiser for Radical Women said: “A war on abortion rights is raging across the world, as a global ultra-reactionary movement demands that governments dictate what women can and can’t do with their bodies.

“Here in Victoria, we will not allow these anti-choice bigots to reverse the legalisation of abortion. We achieved this milestone two years ago after decades of campaigning.”

The Melbourne rally will also address the reproductive rights of all women, Brennan explained. “We believe a multi-issue approach to the battle for reproductive rights is essential.

“Choice means that women with disabilities must not be forcibly sterilised; choice means that lesbians and single women must have equal access to assisted reproductive technologies; choice means that all women must have a living wage, childcare, housing and paid maternity leave; choice means access to reproductive health services in remote and regional communities; choice also means not having children removed and parents forced to use a Basics Card by a racist and paternalistic state.

“What unites these struggles is that all women need autonomy and the ability to make genuine choices about their reproduction.”

Melbourne pro-choice activists will assemble at noon on the steps of Parliament House. Protesters are encouraged to bring coathangers to symbolise that women refuse to return to backyard abortions.

“We’ll hold a vocal and visible march through Melbourne’s streets and return to Parliament House to occupy the moral high ground before the right wing arrives”, said Brennan.

Radical Women calls on feminists to join together to build a united front capable of stopping the right wing and winning survival needs, including full reproductive rights. We need a movement to stand up to the bigots, bosses, warmongers, genocidal land grabbers, homophobes and anti-abortion misogynists. It’s a battle we can’t afford to lose!

[Alison Thorne is a member of Radical Women. For information about the Melbourne action contact Radical Women on 9388 0062 or email radicalwomen@optusnet.com.au. For information about the Brisbane action visit http://www.prochoiceactionqld.org ]

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