In May of this year women in Ireland won a resounding victory in a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, decriminalising abortion. This victory helped inspire women in many other parts of the world including in the Spanish state, the US, Argentina and Chile.
Women in Queensland have also been emboldened to take the fight for abortion rights forward.
After a recommendation by the Queensland Law Reform Commission to decriminalise abortion, protesters gathered outside Parliament House calling for change. The major parties have blocked action on this issue for years, but under renewed pressure the Labor state government now want to be seen as doing something.
They’re proposing to remove abortion from the criminal code, introduce 150 metre “safe access zones” around clinics and provide terminations on request up to 22 weeks gestation.
In a sense, Labor are trying to capitalise on the positive shift in public opinion that has taken place in recent years. They know that if they sat on their hands any longer they would have been met with a growing campaign demanding the removal of Queensland’s backward anti-choice laws and more.
The bill is set to be debated in the state parliament in mid-October. If Labor used their majority the bill would pass easily, but instead they have said that they will give their MPs a “conscience vote” on the matter. The Liberal National Party opposition have indicated that they will do the same, depending on the content of the proposal.
Unsurprisingly, the reactionaries in Katter’s Australian Party have said they will oppose any attempt to decriminalise abortion.
The problem is that if a few Labor MPs choose to cross the floor, the bill could still fail to pass. This highlights Labor’s weak, halfway-house position when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. The party binds elected members to vote on all policy matters except when it comes to abortion rights.
A majority of Queenslanders support reforming the outdated, anti-choice legislation. In 2017 similar legislation was pulled before it was heard. We must ensure that this matter is not deferred again.
The only way to ensure that abortion is decriminalised is to build a campaign to put public pressure on all the politicians. They need to know that there will be a price to pay at the ballot box and in the streets if they once again ignore the wishes of ordinary people.
Several groups, such as Women’s Abortion Rights Campaign and Pro Choice Qld, are already campaigning and lobbying politicians. They also provide much needed support to women seeking abortion services by defending women from the harassment of anti-choice “protesters”.
Now is the time to build on the gains made by groups like these and develop a mass campaign for women’s rights in Queensland and across Australia. We should remember that Queensland is not the only state in Australia where abortion rights are limited. In many places abortion is not widely accessible and nowhere is it free at the point of use.
Socialists support the right of women to exercise full control over their bodies. They should choose if, how, and when they will have children.
Decriminalising abortion in Queensland would be a huge step forward, allowing women freer access to vital medical services. But it will not address the numerous other types of sexism faced by women on a daily basis such as objectification, harassment and pay inequality. These issues are rooted in the capitalist system.
Only a system that puts people’s needs before profits can begin to undermine sexism and other forms of discrimination. Tremendous barriers can be overcome when ordinary people come together to fight for their rights, but we should go further and fight for a socialist society that genuinely promotes equality over division.
Lets campaign to win this battle for abortion rights in Queensland, but no matter the outcome of Labor’s bill, the struggle to rid the world of sexism will be far from over. We have a world to win and we need fighting, radical organisations to win it.
By Eóin Dawson