Thousands of protestors turned out in torrential rain at Town Hall on Saturday in defence of abortion rights.
The demonstration is the latest in a string of global protests against the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, and with it 50 years of constitutionally protected abortion access in America.
Given that abortion was only recently decriminalised in many states in Australia, and that right wing politicians have been vindicated by the decision in the US, the security of hard-fought advances toward reproductive justice was central to the concerns of attendees.
The protest was co-chaired by UNSW student activist Hersha Kadkol and Dani Villafaña, founder of Youth Against Sexual Violence Australia.
“We’re here, sending a very clear message to every bigot standing in the way of our rights. No way in hell are you going to take them away from us,” Kadkol said.
Aunty Shirley Lomas, who hails from the Gamilaroi and Waka Waka nations, began with an Acknowledgement of Country and paid respect to the feminists who led the way in the fight for abortion rights.
Jenny Leong, the Greens State MP for Newtown, condemned the transphobia seen during the recent debate over the Religious Discrimination Bill and stressed the importance of inclusivity to the pro-choice movement.
She also highlighted the 2019 decriminalisation of abortion in NSW, decrying the delay in the reform’s passage.
“I am proud to be part of the Greens, a party that does not allow a conscience vote when it comes to abortion,” Leong said, a direct reference to the passage of the 2019 bill, where both major parties opted not to bind members to a particular position.
Julia, a registered nurse and delegate of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, spoke about the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement in the wake of crises across the public sector.
“The conditions for families have only become worse, as the social welfare systems have been eroded, public health and education are in crisis, and public housing is under attack.”
The rally’s chairs were then joined on stage by fellow student activists, accentuating the acute impact Roe’s overturning will have on young people.
USyd SRC Education Officer Lia Perkins emphasised the link between the pro-choice movement and decolonisation.
“In so-called Australia, First Nations families are put under coercive and controlling situations by the state and have their children removed at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous families. This [struggle] is part of reproductive justice, and it’s what the feminist movement needs to be addressing.”
NUS President Georgie Beatty linked the struggle for reproductive justice to current issues on university campuses, including the extraordinary rates of sexual violence confirmed by the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) and the financial precarity of casual jobs that may make abortion prohibitively expensive.
“An abortion can cost between $400-600 dollars before 13 weeks, and up to $7500 after 19 weeks. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people my age who have $7500 in their bank accounts.”
Speakers also shared emotional testimonies about their own experiences accessing abortions, including 17 year-old activist Eva Charley: “If I didn’t live in this country I’d be a teenage mother of two.”
“There are children my age and younger, kids who aren’t even old enough to have Facebook, and people think they’re old enough to have children? It is ridiculous,” she said.
Protesters also drew links between the issue of abortion rights and other progressive causes such as LGBTQIA+ rights.
“The right have a clear and conscious project and they are on a warpath. For the right, all of these issues are interlinked, and so they must be for us too,” said April Holcombe, co-convenor of Community Action for Rainbow Rights. “We’re not on some automatic travelator that takes us forward. Progress is a battle.”
She also called out the hypocrisy of the American religious right, who purport to defend the rights of the unborn but are “more than happy to let them be drone-bombed in Afghanistan, or be gunned down by cops in Chicago” once born.
The protest ended with a march to the US Consulate in the MLC Centre, and a promise from protesters to take further action.
The rally was one of many well-attended demonstrations across Australia, and has drawn attention to the issues with abortion access domestically.
“Because it’s decriminalised, politicians don’t want to talk about it a lot, but in reality it’s largely inaccessible for those that I represent: students and those who need it most,” Georgie Beatty said in her speech. “Access is a fundamental human right, it’s a fundamental health right, and we need to treat it as such.”