Abortion Rights and Free Speech: the Fight is on!

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The fight in Victoria to defend abortion rights has widened into a battle for free speech. Pro-choice activists who each month defend an East Melbourne clinic from anti-abortion zealots are being harassed by Melbourne City Council. For five years, clinic defenders have kept the “ Helpers of God’ s Precious Infants” well away from the entrance of the Fertility Control Clinic, where they had once bullied clients by taking photos, preaching at them and thrusting effigies of babies in their faces. The defenders turned the footpath in front of the clinic into a pro-choice rallying point. The right-to-choose message of our placards, slogans and purple banner with “ Free abortion on demand Now!” in vibrant green always elicit honks and thumbs up from passers by. Clinic staffers come out to express their appreciation — some have spent decades working under the constant threat of violence. Nine years ago, a fanatic stormed into the crowded waiting room and killed the security guard.
By early this year, the anti-abortion forces in Australia – working closely with the global movement — ramped up their campaign. In Victoria, the right wing is working to recriminalise abortion, while recently in Queensland it backed the prosecution of the first woman to be charged under the state’ s 1899 criminal code for procuring an abortion. In February, 40 Days for Life came to Australia. This is an event, prevalent throughout the United States, designed to intensify the harassment of clinics through “ vigils.” The Fertility Control Clinic is now its Melbourne target.
In March, Melbourne City Council approached Radical Women, as the organiser of the clinic defence, for the first time. A Local Laws Officer warned RW that
the PA system breached the bylaws on amplification. When asked why this was now an issue, he answered that there had been “ complaints.” If we continued to use the amplification, the council would confiscate the sound equipment. Through community lawyers, RW challenged the threat. The council backed off, having to concede that the right to protest is enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, which binds local councils. Clinic defenders have continued to rally every month with our sound system, placards and banner.
However in October, the Local Laws Officer issued a compliance notice – this time, for allegedly breaching Activities Local Law 2009 Clause 4.6: “ a person must not place or erect a portable advertising sign…on or over a public place…” The council is now claiming that the banner is an advertising sign! We face a potential fine of $1,000.
That staff and women continue to be stalked and hounded by these woman-hating creeps every single day doesn’ t cause the same concern for Melbourne City Council.
Defend abortion rights! Defend free speech! Come to the next clinic defence! See you on Saturday, November 27, 10.00am outside the Fertility Control Clinic, 118 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne. Bring placards and extra megaphones. Tell your friends, workmates and family. For more information, contact Radical Women: radicalwomen@optusnet.com.au or 03-9388-0062.

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