Right to choose: In Victoria, lesbians and all women win historic rights. Now we must defend them.

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2008 ended with a stunning double victory for reproductive justice in Victoria: the

decriminalisation of abortion and access to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

for lesbians and single women. Both took years of unflinching organising. Up against the

terrible twins of “pro-family” reaction — misogyny and homophobia — the pro-choice

forces won out. Bravo!

Most people believe in every woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions.

Yet anti-choice bigots still wield influence that is totally disproportionate to their tiny

numbers. The slim majority vote for both bills shows how disconnected parliamentarians

can be from their electorates — responding instead to the demands of business and

patriarchal diehards who want women at home, breeding families and obedient to their

husband and breadwinner. It’s just sooo nineteenth century!

Half a century of struggle. Putting women in charge of their destinies has been a hot

potato for mainstream politicians. Persistent popular pressure forced John Brumby’s

Labor government to take on abortion law reform and ART. It would put limits where

it believed it could get away with them. Rejecting abortion on demand throughout a

pregnancy, Brumby chose to restrict it to the first 24 weeks. Liberal feminists, who

had initially campaigned for unlimited abortion rights, promptly got behind Brumby’s

legislation, arguing that only a few women seek later abortions. This “compromise” sums

up nicely the limits of liberalism and of Parliament.

RW was part of an activist coalition that continued the fight for full abortion rights,

arguing that every woman must have the right to choose, and this means at all stages of

pregnancy. Furthermore, restrictions on abortion rights would leave them open to attack

by a very determined, well-bankrolled right wing. Two rallies outside Parliament brought

out hundreds in defence of the demand. Victorian Trades Hall Council endorsed the call

— a first for the union movement, which needs to be built upon.

Unfinished business. Once abortion decriminalisation was voted in, anti-abortionists

cried “Retribution!” and called for its recriminalisation. Youth 4 Life, a new group of

young religious zealots, has already appeared outside the Fertility Control Clinic in

East Melbourne. Tasmanian Senator, Guy Barnett, is making another attempt to remove

second and third trimester abortions from Medicare funding.

The pro-choice majority needs again to speak up and organise to defend and extend these

victories. Unions must be a part of this. As Trades Hall said to a rally outside Parliament,

“women’s rights are workers’ rights; reproductive rights are workers’ rights.” Right on!

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