On March 29, free speech campaigners sat in the public gallery of Melbourne Town Hall to watch Melbourne City Councillor, Cathy Oke, table a bulky petition of nearly 600 statements and letters addressed to the Council. The public petition demanded that the Council stop interfering with the protest rights of pro-choice activists who defend the Fertility Control Clinic against anti-abortion harassment.
Since early 2010, Melbourne City Council has applied local laws against the clinic defenders — first threatening to confiscate their megaphones and then, in October last year, issuing a “ Notice to Comply” in regard to a banner that reads “ Free Abortion on Demand Now!” Reproductive rights activists have defended the clinic every month for six years, keeping anti-abortion zealots away and safeguarding the area for clinic staff and clients and women just walking by. If the pro-choice activists were not there, as many as 80 members of the “ Helpers of God’ s Precious Infants” would be standing at the entrance with religious relics, lurid pictures and video cameras.
Why the Council, after four-and-a-half years, suddenly took an interest in the clinic defence is hard to say. But the timing coincides with the escalation of anti-abortion activity in Victoria, where the far-right movement – representing a tiny minority of the population – is working to overturn the 2008 legalisation of abortion.
The Council argues that it is being even-handed in its application of the local laws. This is nonsense. The Council’ s actions against the clinic defenders counteract women’ s lawful right to access abortion and the safety of clinic staff. Its actions also breach free speech and protest rights, also protected by law.
The petition is in the hands of the Council CEO, Kathy Alexander, who decides whether Councillors will consider the matter. More action by free speech and reproductive rights campaigners may be needed.
The anti-abortion movement can be stopped – clearly not by state authorities, but by grassroots organising and the building of a strong reproductive rights movement. Come to the clinic defence on July 23 and rally for reproductive justice and the right to organise in the streets. The rally will remember Steve Rogers, the clinic’ s security guard murdered 10 years ago by a fanatic who stormed into the crowded waiting room strapped with explosives. Bring your placards and banners, friends and workmates.
Saturday, 23 July, 10.00 am
Fertility Control Clinic, 118 Wellington Parade,
For more information, email Radical Women, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03-9388-0062.