Today, a counter-mobilisation by an alliance of women’s and Left groups defeated the “March for the Babies”, the annual anti-abortion rally organised in Melbourne by a coalition of Catholic and Protestant zealots and Right wing politicians.
The “March for the Babies” was first held in 2009, a reaction against the decriminalisation of abortion the previous year. At its height, it drew a crowd of 10,000 or more, but counter-mobilisations in the last few years have helped its decline. The anti-abortionists marched to Parliament House and rallied on the steps, using a massive sound system to drown out opposition from the Left counter-mobilisation.
This year, the counter-mobilisation did something different. There were about 300 of us, about 50% up from last year. Most were young and most were women. The coppers set up some water barriers to keep about ten metres between us and the other mob. On the far side, the podium was waiting, complete with its massive sound system. We did the usual chants and speakers while we were waiting for the anti-abortionists to arrive and listened to a couple of impressive speeches from some very angry women until the podium crew of the anti-abortionists put some music on – very loud. We were not amused and the feeling was obviously mutual.
At this point, the pro-choice counter-mobilisation marched away from Parliament House. Our scouts, as this author later learned, had reported that their numbers were well down on last year, which had in turn been a big drop on 2011. It was a very fast march indeed, because we were racing to intercept the other side. After a brief sit-down at the corner of Collins & Exhibition Streets, we turned right into Collins, then left into Swanston and finally left again into Flinders St, where we came face to face with the anti-abortionists outside the National Gallery of Victoria. To the surprise of most of us, but also to our great pleasure, we saw there were only about 500 of them.
In the front row of the “March for the Babies” was Bernie Finn, the Liberal member of the Victorian Upper House, who has been the strongest Parliamentary ally of this campaign. One fellow on our side had a placard with a picture of Bernie, pointing out how he says he’s “pro-life” but quoting him in supporting the death penalty. Bulls-eye. The average age of the anti-abortionists was well above ours, while about half of them were men.
So we stood there, in their way – and stopped them. After a short while, a thin blue line of coppers interposed itself between the two groups, facing us. It was clear who they were protecting and from whom. For the next hour we chanted, and arguments raged between the people in the respective front rows. A few times some anti-abortionists were allowed by the cops to walk among us, preaching about the evils of abortion. Nobody thumped them, but we gave them plenty of curry and there was one six-foot plus fellow to whom this author gave a piece of his mind. After a couple of anti-abortionists lost their placards, they gave up that tactic.
Eventually, the “March for the Babies” threw in the towel. Their numbers were dwindling, their sound truck had left and, although the coppers were determined to protect them from us, they weren’t inclined to break us up to let them through. The remaining, much diminished, anti-abortionists turned around and marched away. A steward told me they were going back to Treasury Gardens, where they’d assembled, but somebody else said they were going to Parliament by a shorter, but less public route. While a score or so protestors argued vehemently with the one or two anti-abortionists who couldn’t drag themselves away from the scene, the MACG contingent left, satisfied with a good day’s work.
The MACG considers today a victory. We stood up to the foot soldiers of reaction and they blinked. With an anti-abortion Prime Minister newly installed, the religious Right will have the wind in their sails and be discussing what he can do for them. On this front, though, they have been defeated. They tried to march in Melbourne, where abortion has been decriminalised, and they couldn’t.
Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group
12 October 2013
Just so you’ve got the facts accurate, there were actually over 4,000 pro-lifers involved in the march last Saturday.
You are a champion for free speech and tolerance. Glad you are satisfied by your day’s work.
Just for reference, a bigot is a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from their own. I’m sure there were no pro choice there on Saturday who were intolerant of other views.
As someone who considers the restraint on medical practitioner’s freedom of conscience is worth marching for, I find your report amusing. I spoke to some of your protestors during the hold up at the National Gallery of Victoria and they had no idea what the march was even about. The boy I questioned didn’t even know what the state of the law was in relation to abortion or what the 2008 reforms involved.
Everyone has a right to freedom of speech, but could you please at least do some research before you turn up to destroy a peaceful march? It would make your position much more palatable to the community.
Linda writes sarcastically about me being “a champion for free speech and tolerance”. Let’s see who is tolerant and who isn’t.
1. As I said, nobody got thumped. Two groups with conflicting opinions met on the street and had words with each other. The anti-abortionists who I saw losing their placards were being deliberately provocative and, while I wouldn’t have gone that far, I can certainly understand the anger that they were stoking.
2. Linda defines a bigot as “a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from their own”. That is certainly a description of anti-abortionists. They are attempting to make the choices of some women illegal. If abortion doesn’t sit easily on your conscience, don’t have one. Just for the record, I also oppose the compulsory abortion policy that the Chinese Government applies in some circumstances.
3. Linda and her co-thinkers are free to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later. She has every right to that religious belief. She and her co-thinkers are free to believe that God bestows a soul on every individual at the moment of conception. She has every right to that religious belief. What she is not entitled to do is to use the power of the State to force other people to abide by her religious beliefs. There is no “tolerance” in that.
Finally, “our opinion” is certainly more palatable to the community than Linda’s. We support a woman’s right to choose. Linda doesn’t. And Saturday’s counter-demonstrators were willing to fight to prevent women losing that right.
Peter Kavanagh’s letter to News Weekly, the long established mouthpiece of the Catholic Right in this country, has one certifiable inaccuracy and another highly probable one.
The certifiable inaccuracy is his statement that the actual figure of the counter-demonstrators was “in the twenties”. I made a very careful estimate myself (so I could judge the reliability of later reports) and there were about 300. Our numbers didn’t diminish on the route of the march, so we would have had roughly that number when we met the anti-abortionists. Almost half our demonstrators left the street and stood on the footpath, some at the point when the two sides met and others later on.
And while I have no idea how many anti-abortionists assembled in Treasury Gardens, I can certainly say that nowhere near Kavanagh’s “4,000” were in Flinders St when our demo met theirs. The reaction of everyone on our side to whom I spoke was delight that their numbers were only a little larger than ours. Their reaction would have been very different if we had indeed encountered the alleged “4,000”.
Finally, the one certifiable inaccuracy and the other highly probable one in Kavanagh’s letter motivate me to doubt his account of the conversation with the AAP journalist. From my knowledge of journalists, the letter just doesn’t ring true. Putting words into the mouths of people not present to contradict them is a stock-in-trade of the political Right. Whatever Kavanagh imagines the journalist said, I very much suspect that what transpired was quite different.
Somebody left a Pingback here to an anti-abortion video report. We deleted it because there didn’t appear to be an adequate way of responding to it available on WordPress. Maybe it’s because we’re not WordPress experts. For the information of readers, the video report was edited to omit virtually all the pro-choice protestors, as well as using a number of other distorting techniques. We don’t, unfortunately, have video of our own. We are happy to engage in debate, but we’re not going to give our enemies free kicks.