Last Saturday I spoke at the Pro-choice rally which was gathered in opposition to the March for the Babies (an anti-choice rally organised by Bernie Finn) outside the Victorian Parliament. It was a very surreal day, I really felt I had travelled to a parallel universe. Sadly, the anti-choicers severely out-numbers the pro-choicers, though they had bussed people from all over the place (including Albury, in NSW…) to attend. It was a call back to the 70s, it felt like (though I wasn’t around for such protests back then, so I don’t know).
This is the text of the speech I gave:
I am here today as a woman, and as a student. Let me start by emphasising that education is centrally important to achieving equality, addressing poverty, preventing unemployment, homelessness and a host of other issues which impact individuals and the whole of society. Access to education is therefore pivotal. In my primary and high school days, I sat in classrooms with boys, being told that I was the same as them, being told that I could do anything. That as a girl and as a woman, there was nothing that was impossible. As I grew older, what a surprise it was to find that equality is still being fought for. How amazed I was that it wasn’t until 2008 that Victoria removed abortion from it’s criminal statutes – after I had graduated from high school and had begun my tertiary education. All this while some women of my generation question the need for feminism and believe that full equality was achieved some time ago.
Reproductive rights are about more than just abortion. They include access to all forms of contraception, adoption, IVF, excellent pre- and post-natal care for those who give birth, as well as sterilisation. Abortion is part of reproductive rights as a whole and I would like to emphasise that each of these are important for men, women and trans identified people – all people should have access to reproductive justice. Later this afternoon, the March for the Babies protesters will try to separate abortion from all of these things. Abortion must stay within a reproductive rights context and every element of reproductive justice is as important as the next. Last year at this protest I was shocked to hear one anti-choice protester say that she would rather be raped than have an abortion. A strong feeling that I personally disagree with, however she illustrates my point perfectly – this is about choice and personal freedom – if you do not want an abortion, then please, do not have one.
Speaking of personal freedoms, I would also like to talk about sexual freedom. It all sounds very 1970s and free-love, but sexual freedoms are the ones which governments target first. They are hard to defend because the moralising parts of our society attack them as being debaucherous, immoral or unwanted in the first place. They have been described as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ or the barometer which tells us when freedoms in our society are beginning to be eroded. Reproductive rights are inherently linked to sexual freedom, as we cannot achieve sexual freedom without proper access to reproductive rights.
This brings me to my next point. We must trust women, trust them to make decisions which are best and right for them. Women must be able to decide when, if and how they have children. Women, including women students, are more than incubators and we must treat them as such. Women deserve equality before the law and the respect which comes with trusting women to make reproductive decisions. We must say to women ‘you are responsible and have your own moral integrity’ and allow women to exercise that responsibility and integrity. In Victoria, we are lucky that the law largely allows women to do that. In other states, we must fight so that women are afforded the rights they are entitled to. The prosecution of a young woman and her partner in Cairns should serve as a wake up call to all of us – this issue is centrally important and although these laws very old, they are still being enforced, and we must not assume any differently. Victoria can never go back.