I couldn't make the meeting
Given the importance of the issue I wanted a report on the event , so Tami has kindly let me use her post on Shiraz.
Over to Tami ...
Last night, nearly 300 women and some men gathered in committee room 14 (and the neighbouring room for the overflow) to show their support for the upcoming battle in parliament for a woman’s right to choose. It really was inspiring to see so many women, and so many young women in particular, ready to stand up to those who would take us backward.
The three main parties spoke from the platform with female representatives from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats and a male representative from the Conservatives. Many issues were discussed including precisely how we got to the point where Conservative Baroness Masham has used the unrelated Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to attempt to tack on an amendment restricting a women’s right to choose.
In particular they are attempting to restrict abortion in the cases of “foetal abnormality”. Many in the pro-life, anti-woman movement claim to be speaking on behalf of disabled people. However, a rousing speech was given by Alex Kent from the NUS Disabled Students in defence of a woman’s right to choose and with a certain amount of indignation at those who would use disabled people as an excuse to restrict abortion access. Baroness Jenny Tonge (LD) spoke of how this restriction would require women who were carrying foetuses with no brain to full term and this was a condition she had witnessed herself as a medical professional.
There were a number of mentions made of the statistics such as those showing an 83% support amongst the British public for a woman’s right to choose and this led to references to “the silent pro-choice majority”. In addition, MP Evan Harris (LD) spoke about the scientific report which was produced in October of last year and overwhelmingly passed by a majority of MPs which concluded that there is no evidence to change the 24 week time limit and in fact further restrictions to access, like the requirement of obtaining two doctor’s signatures, should be scrapped.
Emily Thornberry MP (LP) who was sponsoring the meeting ran through a list of private member’s bills which have been presented but which have all, fortunately, failed. These included the proposal to have a “cooling off period” before the woman could proceed with an abortion, forced informing of parents for teenage women under a certain age, and a combination of the lowering of the time limits coupled with a cooling off period.
By far the most rousing speech of the evening was by Diane Abbott MP (LP). Diane wondered if this new fight around a women’s right to choose would involve MPs receiving plastic foetuses in the mail as they did in the 1990s when the issue was being debated. She then went on to utterly condemn those who claim that being opposed to abortion has to do with the right of children. “Where is this support once the child is born?” Abbott asked. She noted the hypocrisy, particularly concerning asylum seeker children and to much applause stated “This is an anti-woman campaign!” In addition, Diane was one of the few speakers to mention that there remained a fear of women’s sexuality which was woven into this debate. Finally she claimed, to more applause, that if these campaigners were so concerned about abortion rates, why did they also oppose sexual education?
Other speakers included representatives of the Fawcett Society, the Voice for Choice Network and Doctors for a Woman’s Choice. Each added their own unique perspective to the debate and educated all in attendance.
There was a discussion period afterward in which we heard from the Green Party, various NUS representatives and a very good showing from trade union activists. By the time one left there was a feeling of a new movement being born.
Having said this, there will obviously be struggles ahead. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it is a tragedy, and nothing less, that George Galloway will not participate in this movement nor speak out in favour of a woman’s right to choose. While there was a comrade there from the ISG (of whom I continue to have a tremendous amount of love and respect for), I continue to believe that the fact that a party which claims to be to the left of Labour cannot send its only MP to such meetings a great detriment to the left.
In addition, a comrade from Permanent Revolution was in attendance and was speaking to other comrades from Feminist Fightback after the meeting who were wholeheartedly in favour of direct action, demonstrations and loud protests. It is clear that others in the movement rely more on lobbying and writing to MPs. Having lived in the US and participated in clinic defence as well as pro-choice rallies in the face of very hostile and right-wing opposition, I am inclined to agree with those who want more of an emphasis on direct action to beat back the right.
To be fair, Abortion Rights has in fact called for some direct action against Anne Widdecombe’s “road trip” to whip up support for the anti-choice amendments. I am listing the dates, times and venues in full in the hope that it will help to gain support for protests across the country. I plan on being at the London counter-demo and encourage everyone to join us in this crucial fight for a women’s right to choose against the forces of reaction. Anne Widdecombe’s Anti-Woman Road Show Dates:
Glasgow, 23rd of January @ The University Union, 7:30pm
Southampton, 30th of January @ Univ of Southampton, 7:30pm
London, 6th of February @ Central Hall Westminster, 7pm
Liverpool, 12th February @ The Liner Hotel, 7:30pm
Coventry, 13th February @ Coventry Cathedral, 7:30pm
Widnes, 18th February @ The Foundry, Lugsale Rd, 7:30pm
Cardiff, 4th March @ TheCity Temple, Cowbridge Rd, 7:30pm
Join us! Let’s build this new fightback against the anti-woman campaigners in parliament and in the streets! Please consider joining and financially supporting Abortion Rights UK
Labels: pro choice, women's rights