Tag Archives: activism

A laugh in the face of increasing US reproductive rights restrictions

This year has been a depressing one for reproductive rights activists in the US, with a record number of restrictions being legislated in the first half of 2011 alone.

The Onion managed to bring a smile to my face today, with this article highlighting the ridiculousness of such restrictions. I’m not trying to make a joke out of a serious situation, but this has allowed me to think about what has for most of the year been too depressing to even contemplate. Cheers, onion writers.


March for the Babies and Reproductive Rights

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.

Activism and pragmatism

Activism is a messy thing at the best of times. Often people from a range of political beliefs and backgrounds believe that something is worth taking a stand for, and the group that gathers, protests, agitates or advocates for that thing can be made up of people who may vehemently disagree on many things, aside from the issue that has brought them together. For me, this aspect of social change is fascinating, and has made me think long and hard about the value of pragmatism, as well as it’s negative aspects.

Clinic Defence – a gathering of pro-choice activists on the fourth Sunday of each month, outside the East Melbourne Fertility Clinic – is organised by Radical Women, a radical socialist women’s organisation. People (often myself included) gather to defend the space directly outside the clinic – to ensure that the fundamentalist Christians who pray for the ‘dead babies’ have to stand on the opposite side of the road. And I often agree with the politics of Radical Women, in that I am concerned about many of the same issues as they are. But from what I know of their organisation, I disagree often with the how – how to work to achieve the change they believe in. This isn’t surprising of course, because I don’t identify as a socialist. But what continues to surprise me is that many of the social issues I am concerned about, socialists are often working to achieve the same ends, but through very different means.

All of this has led me to really consider the idea of pragmatism, and whether this is the only (?) uniting factor among people working for social change. There are so often so many serious conflicts of political outlook and ideology, but people continue to unite in spite of these differences to work for the change they believe in. The Equal Love rallies are a classic example – there is pretty much every political persuasion represented from socialism through to absolutist libertarians, who for almost completely opposite reasons, believe in exactly the same change to the system. I have, for the last couple of years, been searching for a framework, and ideology that could bring people from disparate political beliefs together to work for social change without the conflicts which can occur. Maybe it’s human rights (but whose rights?)? Maybe it’s sustainable development (but development for who?)? Freedom (to do/have what?)? But the same ideological conflicts occur because there are always definitional issues, as well as the issue of how the ends should be worked towards, what society should look like when the issue has been resolved. Pragmatism isn’t perfect either, but for now it seems to be the only thing we have that even functions to unify the fragmented politics of social change activists across the globe.