In early June a 2000-strong rally marched through Sydney’s city centre demanding the government finally remove the ban on abortion rights.
The youthful rally was called by high school student Bella Ziade. The protest was called to draw attention to the fact that in Australia abortion access is still limited, and the case of New South Wales and South Australia is still criminalised.
Also in the minds of the protesters was the draconian abortion bans that are being pushed for in some parts of the United States.
This rally was an example of a growing radicalisation among young people, and a growing realisation that unless we keep up the fight much of what we have fought for can be snatched back by those in power.
Importantly for the abortion rights campaign a new coalition of community groups has been established. The NSW ProChoice Alliance, which includes the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, is demanding the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW.
No doubt activists have been inspired by last year’s victory for abortion rights in Queensland, as well as the historic victory against the 8th amendment in Ireland. These wins are proof that when working class people band together they can overturn reactionary laws.
One of the lessons from these struggles however is that we cannot rely on the major capitalist parties. It is these very people who have maintained restrictions on our right to choose.
In Queensland for example, Labor gambled with the outcome by allowing their MPs a conscience vote, rather than binding them to party policy.
We should do all we can to pressure the major parties but collective action is our main strength.
Having trade unions actively involved in the abortion rights campaign is extremely important because abortion rights are both a social and a workplace issue. Genuine equality only exists if all workers have the right to choose when and whether to have children.
For women to be able to exercise full control over their bodies they also need to be able to remove the economic burdens that exist.
In the past the union movement has fought for equal pay and access to childcare. Workers in trade unions recognised that fighting for these reforms was needed to raise the living standards of all workers. Fighting for free access to legal abortion today is just as important.
We need to fight for free and accessible abortion on demand in every state. This should be fully covered by the public health system, available in all hospitals and accessible to those living in regional and remote areas.
This needs to be coupled with comprehensive, evidence-based sex education in primary and secondary schools, as well as having free contraception available to everyone regardless of age.
Removing the economic burdens to having children means that we also need to fight for free education from early childhood to university, for more public housing and for an expanded public healthcare system.
Women’s basic rights and access to healthcare in NSW are still being controlled by laws that were implemented in 1900. To many these restrictive laws are seen as one of the last legal vestiges of decades of gender repression.
Part of the reason these laws still exist is because of the influence that right wing Christian groups have over the major parties. It is these same types of groups that are pushing to wind back abortion rights in the United States and elsewhere.
Under capitalism, there is a drive to keep women locked into the roles that are the most convenient for the ruling class. This means women are viewed as tools for producing children or objects exploited for profit. Right-wing ideology is stoked to justify this, and the rights of women come under constant attack.
The fight for equal rights and women’s liberation – including access to abortions – needs to be stepped up to ensure that nothing we have already won is taken away.
For socialists, the fight needs to be linked to a fight for a different kind of system – a system that puts people’s needs before profits. A socialist society, based on public ownership, genuine democracy and equal participation, would remove the basis for reactionary laws and open the way for the liberation of all those who suffer oppression.
By Meredith Jacka