On a sweltering hot day, the 24th of November, 100s of Melburnians gathered to defend the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne against the pro-life activists who regularly harass women and their partners using this clinic for termination of unwanted or medically risky pregnancies. This was the first action for the newly formed Melbourne Feminist Action collective, of which some Melbourne FACT members are a part, along with many other fine feminist organisers and political activists in Melbourne. After some inspiring speeches by Debbie Brennan of Campaign for Women’s Reproductive Rights (women are not incubators!), Colleen Hartland of the Greens (speaking on her own experience of using termination services), and Karen Pickering of Slutwalk and Cherchev la Femme (80% of the public support abortion rights, opponents of women’s right to choose are a small minority!), clinic defenders marched to City Square in celebration of the gains of the feminist movement in securing safe access to sexual and reproductive services in Victoria.
Thanks to good organisation, thoughtful social media health and safety promotion, and super-prepared activists on the day, there were no incidents needing first aid attention at the event. Nevertheless, Melbourne FACT street medics were prepared to help any one who needed it, we want rallies such as these to be empowering spaces and know sometimes that accidents and health-related incidents do happen. The only incident worth noting was a young pro-life activist who had fallen on the tram tracks in pursuit of Melbourne Feminist Action marchers, FACT appreciate the graciousness of this particular young woman requesting first aid and engaging in polite conversation about our opposing positions. It is my opinion that young people (particularly children) coerced into joining antagonistic pro-life actions deserve our sympathy, not our hatred. Indoctrination into neo-conservative religious and political cultures disempowers individuals, I feel it is better to offer kindness and demonstrate clearly there are realistic alternatives different to the ones they are taught by their institutions and patriarchs to fear.
My own personal experience of the Melbourne Feminist Collective and the rally to defend women’s right to choose has been a joyful one due my long-term involvement with this issue- I worked for Family Planning NZ as younger woman and was exposed to the multitude of reasons women and their families seek termination of pregnancy services. I’m proud of being able to help these people. To me, unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy is a fact of life and women need to have access to unbiased services where they can be appropriately counselled on their choices. It is my hope that we can grow a feminist movement influential enough to extend family planning and safe clinical services to all women in Australia, irrespective of whether they can afford the services or not. Additionally, we can see from the example of the recent U.S. elections that candidate’s policies on women’s reproductive choices can make or break political careers. I call on supporters of women’s rights and family planning services to mobilise around this issue as one that can have major impact on the 2013 Federal elections in Australia, let’s oust neo-conservatism and sexism from Australian politics!