Anti-abortion Terror re-emerges in Melbourne

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Confronting the fetus fetishists: Radical Women in action! Photo by Suzette Hunter.

Right To Life, your Name’s A Lie, goes a well-used chant against the fetus worshippers organised by a tiny band of Catholic fanatics centred on Margaret Tighe. It continues: “you don’t care if women die!” Nor ordinary workers going about their job. When, on July 16, a man of unknown identity shot and killed a security guard at the Fertility Control Clinic, Tighe couldn’t wait to get on radio to claim that murder is to be expected “because people get angry at what goes on in such places.” Apart from the obscene callousness towards the family of the dead worker, this comment should be seen for what it is, a deliberate encouragement for more acts of terrorism against the patients and workers at what are, at present, legal medical facilities.

Low-level intimidation was occurring even as the gunman entered the East Melbourne clinic, carrying enough ammunition to slaughter 30 people and sufficient incendiary material to burn the building to the ground. A tiny cluster of the “Helpers of God’s Precious Infants” stood on the footpath, waving the effigies of late-term plastic “fetuses” they try to pass off as early term embryos and shouting “spiritual guidance” at women as they arrived for appointments at the abortion facility. Nobody suggests that anyone of these pathetic individuals had any direct connection with the killer. But they are the low ebb of a decades-long fear campaign by fanatics such as the Right to Life leadership.

If we were to believe the media, the death of the guard is a tragedy — but not also the armed attack on an abortion service, its practitioners and the women who use it. Melbourne’s Age newspaper cautioned the public to stay cool. “In Australia, although there are individual politicians who would ban abortions if they could, both sides of politics have more or less accepted that abortion is a fact of life that cannot be suppressed by criminal law.”

This is drivel. For women everywhere, the issue is our right to control our own bodies and lives. But the capitalist system needs women controlled, bearing its labour force and caring for it. The pro-barefoot-and-pregnant forces are on a mission: to drag us from the workplace, where we’ve enjoyed some independence, back into the home. In Australia, abortion is still in state criminal codes. It’s true that both the NSW Levine ruling, and the Victorian Menhennitt judgment do give women strictly circumscribed access to terminations. But as long as abortion remains a criminal offence, this access can be removed at the whim of any populist government.

Australia’s fetus fetishists have not been as effective as in the U.S. The East Melbourne clinic, founded by Bertram Wainer nearly 30 years ago, exists today because of the feminists and socialists who defended it against the right wing. The overwhelming majority of Australians support women’s right to abortion. Each political attempt to close off the option has been resoundingly defeated. Anti-abortion rallies are always outnumbered by pro-abortion demonstrators. But the war is not over, and to dismiss the attack on July 16 as an act of a lone psychopath is very dangerous.

In the U.S. and Canada, the anti-abortion movement is infested with Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, anti-semites and other racists. The murder of Dr Garson Romalis in November 1994 is just one example. Romalis, a Jewish activist, performed abortions at Vancouver (British Columbia) General Hospital. In the lead-up to his murder, Canadian anti-abortion protests included anti-Semitic sloganeering, and Nazis supported the shooting. Yet the police denied that the attack was political or abortion-related.

Misogynist backlash. Women’s reproductive rights are on the firing line. Australia is no exception. We only have to watch John Howard trying to deny lesbians and independent women access to fertility technology. Howard is, as usual, tugging his forelock to the followers of Pauline Hanson, whose scapegoats also include unionists, Aborigines and immigrants. Feminists need to make strong alliances with all groups whose rights are drawing fire. Unity against a common enemy is our powerful defence. This was shown not long ago when such a united front drove Nazis out of Melbourne.

Fortunately, the situation has not yet reached the level of open warfare evident in the U.S., where clinic staff have been forced to use weapons to defend themselves. Still, the fact that security staff are required speaks volumes about the threat here —a threat now tragically realised. This assassin and all who have aided, abetted or simply incited him must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Supporters of abortion rights must prepare to defend clinics under attack. Government must provide 24 hour protection for clinics and staff who request it and repeal all anti-abortion laws — which give solace to Right to Life and its ilk.

Anti-abortion terror will not disappear until women win our reproductive freedom. That can’t happen under capitalism, but preparing for the battle and fighting each step of the way will get us there.

Get Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries! Our Bodies Our Lives, Our Right to Decide!

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