Unionists speak out for abortion rights

The rally for abortion rights outside the Queensland parliament on February 16.

More than 400 people rallied for abortion rights outside the Queensland parliament on February 16 in the lead up to a March 1 debate on decriminalising abortion in the state.

One feature of the rally was the strong support by unionists speaking out in favour of the campaign demands. General secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions Ros McLennan gave a powerful speech criticising the “weak-kneed hand-wringing and flip flopping” of the state's politicians when the “right thing to do is just so clear”.

McLennan said every child deserves to be loved, wanted and given the chance to fulfil their full potential. She urged the parliament to align the state's laws with the attitudes of Queenslanders — approximately 80% of whom support the right to choose.

Other unionists to speak out included Sam Pidgeon of the Queensland Teachers Union: “Women do have the right to make their own decisions about their work, their lives, their bodies” she told the crowd.

“Giving women control over their reproductive rights is progress long overdue,” said Michael McNally of the National Tertiary Education Union. “Our members stand in support of this movement and will keep fighting until this law is overturned.”

Holly Patterson of the Services Union told the crowd that the union's members work in support roles in the sector. “We support them and they support this campaign 100%,” she said.

Kerry Inglis of the Electrical Trades Union told the crowd: “We stand in support of this bill to decriminalise abortion in Queensland. Nobody aspires to have an abortion,” she said, but if they need one it “should be their choice, end of story”.

Jo Justo of Together Union said the union was “absolutely here to support our members” and encouraged people to get in touch with parliamentarians to encourage a vote for decriminalisation.

Abortion remains on the  Criminal Code in Queensland — one of only two states in Australia where that is the case.

The issue is being debated now because progressive independent MP Rob Pyne moved a private members' bill to remove abortion from the criminal code and a second bill to regulate the circumstances in which a legal abortion can take place.

While not perfect, these bills would make a dramatic improvement in the legal rights of Queensland women to access abortion. Passing these bills would also make it easier to tackle other access issues such as the high cost, lack of provision in most public hospitals and poor availability in regional areas.

The rally was held the day before a parliamentary committee released a report that failed to recommend the passing of Pyne's bills.

Since then, a report has been released confirming that the “vast majority of Queenslanders support decriminalising of abortion”. It also found that “60% of voters are less likely to vote for an MP who votes to continue criminalising women's healthcare decisions”.

The next step in the campaign is a March 1 rally outside parliament when debate on the bills begins.

[Information about the campaign can be found at the Women's Abortion Rights Campaign Facebook page or at the Pro Choice Cairns Facebook page.

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