Roe v Wade rally Sydney Melbourne: Abortion rights protests launch across Australia

Furious pro-choice protesters in Australia have gathered in huge numbers, demanding more for US citizens and better access to abortion in our own country.

Thousands of people across Australia have joined in protests to protect the abortion rights of people with a uterus.

A sea of pro-choice protesters gathered at Melbourne’s State Library Victoria on Saturday, laden with signs and warm clothes.

“This protest is about standing up in solidarity with all of those people across the United States who are fighting back for their rights. We want to let them know they are not alone. We stand with them,” organiser Liz Walsh said taking to the stage, referencing last week’s US Supreme Court decision to overturn a landmark ruling that granted US citizens the right to abortion.

But it wasn’t all about the US. Speakers highlighted the varying laws across Australia and the need for universal access to abortion across the country.

The rally heard from a range of passionate speakers, including Greens Senator Dorinda Cox from Western Australia – the only Australian jurisdiction that has not decriminalised abortion.

Frontline health worker Cecilia Judge also took to the stage, telling the huge crowd she’s sick of abortion being up for debate, amid a roar of approving cheers.

“Whenever abortion is presented as a debate anywhere, it can increase the shame, stigma, and for some of the people I work with, the grief of accessing abortion care,” she said.

“Abortion is not a debate, abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right.”

She went on to address the failing standards of abortion care right here in Australia, particularly speaking to the unfair standards in Victoria.

“Despite abortion being legal in Victoria, we know that access to it remains a postcode lottery,” she said.

“There are public hospitals in metropolitan Melbourne who take tax payers money for pregnancy and reproductive healthcare, and they refuse to provide abortion care.”

She continued her speech to point out the deteriorating conditions in the healthcare system, particularly since the global pandemic, which she blames on “decades of underfunding by both Liberal and the Labor governments”.

Sex history researcher and TikTok influencer, Esme James, shared that these protests were necessary to keep the fight going.

“They win when we are silent. They win when we stop fighting back,” she said. “They win when we forget the power isn’t ours to take back, but was always ours to begin with.”

A passionate final speech from activist Anneke Demanuele had the crowd roaring about sexism in Australia.

“We need to get rid of the system that priorities the rich and powerful above us,” she yelled.

“Sexism permeates every avenue of our lives,” she added.

“How many billions of dollars are made by industries that make us feel like s*** just for being women? How many women are paid less than their male counterparts? How many women have to make a decision about if they go to work or put their kids in childcare because they can’t afford to do it?

“How many women face sexism in their lives and then are shamed when they stand up and fight?”

‘I’ve had an abortion and it’s nothing to be ashamed of’

After they marched through the city’s streets, news.com.au spoke to protesters about why they had shown up.

Dr Ilsa Evans carried a sign that read “My two daughters would not exist if it weren’t for my 1986 abortion”.

“I think we need to normalise these experiences. So many women have had abortions. It’s all part of family planning,” she said.

“Mistakes happen, unplanned pregnancies happen. The significant vast majority are first trimester and they’re done because they don’t suit for whatever reason.

“It’s all about family planning. It doesn’t mean children don’t exist. Other children will exist.”

Zara Monk walked with the sign “I’ve had an abortion. Deal with it!”.

“I’ve had an abortion and I feel it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.

“I feel like it’s a bit of a taboo topic for some people but I think it should be normalised and women should be able to speak about it and not feel any shame.”

Holding a “My uterus is not yours to dicktate” sign, Tahlia English said she was fighting for herself and future generations.

“I’m fighting for people in the US and I’m fighting for the people who in the past fought for me and my rights,” she added.

Protester Emily Renner said: “Just because it’s across the water doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us back at home.

“There more people we can get to stand together, the more awareness that can be spread.”

‘Australia has a myriad of flaws’

Jamal Hakim, managing director of non-profit healthcare provider MSI Australia, said Australia had “a myriad of flaws” in abortion access.

“We are lucky it is decriminalised across most states and territories, expect WA. But we have so many differences (in laws), it’s really confusing,” he told news.com.au after the rally.

“Harmonisation of laws is important because it means people can access abortion care wherever they are.

“It is currently a postcode lottery across Australia. We want harmonisation and we want funding so every single woman and pregnant person has a choice when it comes to reproductive care.”

Cost is a significant barrier when it comes to abortion, with some women paying more than $620 for an abortion despite the fact it’s on Medicare.

However, for women without access to Medicare or those seeking later-term abortions it can cost up to $8000 out of pocket.

Some women were also being forced to travel across state borders to secure an affordable abortion or a later-term abortion.

Mr Hakim’s colleague Brenna Bernardino, who also spoke at the rally, is a dual US and Australian citizen from Texas.

“I recently came back from Texas to visit family here in Australia. I was in a nightclub on Friday night when I saw the news (about the Roe v Wade) and I was devastated but I knew it was going to happen,” she told news.com.au.

“When I go back I’m definitely going to be doing the marches and protesting as much as possible.”

A leaked document emerged in May suggesting the US Supreme Court would soon overturn Roe v Wade.

Sydney fights the rain

Hundreds of protesters turned up to the Sydney rally outside Town Hall, despite storms drenching the city.

Under ponchos and umbrellas, the crowd can be heard chanting “They say no choice, we say pro choice”.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, activist Hersha Kadkol said the protest was necessary because Roe v Wade being overturned was a “a terrifying attack on the rights of women and others to have control over our bodies”.

While the protests are partly a show of solidarity for the US people who have been affected by the Supreme Court ruling, protesters also say they’re about paying attention to our own shortcomings.

“Supporters always need to be organised and stand up to show our strength,” Kadkol said. “Abortion rights were initially won on the streets and through protests … None of the gains from the past are set in stone and they have to be defended.”

Hundreds gathered at Newcastle museum on Friday night to march through the streets in protest of the Roe v Wade overturn, carrying signs and chanting pro-choice messages.

“Free choice is a human right”, said one sign.

“If the foetus you ‘save’ is gay, will you still protect its right?” said another.

These protests were sparked by the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, a ruling that has protected abortion rights in the US since 1973. The decision triggered the immediate outlawing of the procedure in multiple states.

While some are questioning the reason to protest an American law here in Australia, many are worried about the precedent it sets on our own shores.

Some politicians in Australia have been vocal about their pro-choice stance, including Australia’s Former Assistant Minister for Women, Amanda Stoker of the Liberal party, who proudly spoke at a pro-life rally in Brisbane earlier this year.

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