Politics

Protesters Are Using Coat Hangers To Name And Shame The MPs Who Voted Against Abortion Reform

"No back alleys in the night, for safe abortions we will fight!"

Protesters are fighting back after NSW parliament voted down a bid to decriminalise abortion across the state earlier this month. Gathered outside NSW parliament yesterday, the group hung 25 coat hangers, each one attached to a photo of a politician who voted against the Greens’ bill that would have removed abortion from the NSW Crimes ActThe coat hangers were hung on the parliament fence alongside a pink banner that read “Never Again”.

Along with the hangers — which were displayed in full view of Macquarie Street in Sydney where NSW Parliament resides — the protesters were chanting, “No back alleys in the night, for safe abortions we will fight!”. Their protest follows on from the larger scale pro-choice protests, which took place outside Parliament House the day the bill was debated, where protesters shouted “Shame! Shame!” when news of the defeat reached them.

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The “naming and shaming” of the politicians who voted against the bill is a tactic used to help ensure that disappointed voters know which MPs knocked it off when the next state election comes around. The campaign released a statement explaining that the stunt aims to pinpoint those politicians who, “by voting against the abortion decriminalisation bill, have endangered the lives of people needing to terminate pregnancies”.

The protest was organised by the University of Sydney Wom*ns Collective and the university’s Queer Action Collective.

The campaigners outside Parliament House were joined by Dr Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens MP who introduced the bill. She went out to meet the protesters, and to thank them for exercising their right to speak out against parliament’s decision. “Young people have been an integral part of the End12 campaign [the abortion decriminalisation campaign] from the start,” Faruqi told Junkee this morning.

“The Wom*n’s Collective at the University of Sydney gathered outside parliament to express their frustration at lawmakers and how out of touch they are with the community. We all committed to not let this unsuccessful vote stop our movement for change, which already has a huge coalition of support.”

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As Katie Thorburn, one of the protest organisers and the University of Sydney SRC co-women’s officer, explained in a statement, “Keeping abortion illegal, does not make the need for abortion illegal. We need safe, free and accessible abortion services so pregnant people do not endanger themselves with the practices that we hoped would be kept in the past.”

Dr Faruqi was not shy about her disappointment at parliament’s decision regarding her landmark bill (the first abortion bill to be debated in NSW Parliament since 1900). “I’m pretty gutted that, in 2017, a majority of the members in the upper house of NSW parliament voted to keep abortion in the Crimes Act,” she said.

“In their decision, the parliament failed to reflect the views of the vast majority of people in NSW who want abortion decriminalised. What was even more disappointing was their failure to speak up and justify their decision, perhaps because they had none.”

Still, Dr Faruqi has been “very proud” of the campaign that she ran “with thousands of people in the community”, #End12. “The very lengthy silence on abortion has now been broken and I am even more determined to reform laws to ensure reproductive autonomy for women and all people who need abortion services.”

As always, it’s worth remembering that, no matter which side of debate you come down on, blocking access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions that take place. It merely increases the number of unsafe or self-performed abortions that desperate people will undertake in order to have autonomy over their own bodies.

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As Brit Bennett, 26-year-old American author, said at an event in Melbourne this week, abortion is not just an identity issue, or a women’s issue, it’s an “economic issue”. Bennett asked, “How can women control their own finances if they cannot control if and when they give birth?”

Dr Faruqi explained that, “There has been a flood of response from the community” following the bill’s defeat in parliament. “People are shocked, angry and even embarrassed at the decision of their MPs. Emails and messages are pouring in. There’s disbelief and anger about how many MPs are willing to hold on to archaic laws that dictate what women can and can’t do with their bodies. But people are fired up to take more action and keep pushing for change.”

Faruqi stressed that “where MPs stand on abortion rights had been impossible to judge in a Parliament that has completely avoided discussing this issue in the entirety of its existence, which is well over 100 years.

Now we know that there are MPs who support decriminalisation of abortion and this has opened up opportunities for further discussion. One thing is for sure, the process for abortion rights in NSW has well and truly started and there is no going back now.”

So, if you’re a NSW resident and voter, it’s worth thinking about how this issue might affect where you put your vote in 2019.

Photo credit: Connor Parissis.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith.