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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973

National Womens Abortion Action Onference

page 5

National Womens Abortion Action Onference

The most exciting aspects of the National Women's Abortion Action Conference held last weekend were the enthusiasm for the idea that abortion is a question of women's rights, and the sight of so many different women working together to build the women's abortion action campaign. There were high school women, gay women, housewives, students, young mothers and grandmothers — all kinds of women who want to see an end to the laws which restrict their right to decide whether or not to end an unwanted pregnancy.

The public teach-in on Saturday, July 14 was attended by about 200 people, with a majority of women, and 70 returned on Sunday for the conference to plan the women's abortion action campaign.

There were a high proportion of women from feminist groups, women who had come from Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. According to the registration record there were only 11 people at the teach-in who were opposed to abortion, and 24 undecided on the question of abortion law change.

Throughout the teach-in, different ideas on strategy and aims were put forward, as well as arguments against those who are tenaciously fighting to retain restrictive abortion laws. Isabel Stanton, representing the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRANZ) claimed that abortion was "not a women's issue" and said that her organisation stressed the "importance of family life". She said that it was better to try and get some reforms now than to aim for the ultimate goal of having anti-abortion laws removed from the statutes. She said these reforms would not be achieved by women demonstrating but by "influencing individual MPs." (An example of how this it unrealistic is Martyn Finlay, who was once listed as a supporter of ALRANZ, and who has done nothing to support abortion law change since taking office as Minister of Justice.)

Ms Stanton said that since the laws were made by men and the country ruled by men, it was essential to have men in the abortion movement to convince the government of the need for abortion law change. This view is not a new one; many people have claimed that women won the vote because of the kindliness of male politicians, and not because of the militant and massive campaigns waged by the women in the suffrage movement.

Nita Keig of the Sydney Woman's Abortion Action Campaign stressed the need for a women's campaign which is visible and active. She said that the "right-to-life" forces in Australia had finally realised the power of mass action when they fought against a private member's bill put to Parliament on May 10. She disagreed with Isabel Stanton's views and said that the US Supreme Court's decision to allow abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy had been made possible because women had actively demanded their full right to abortion and not some half-way measure. "If you only ask for half of what you want, you only get a quarter," she said. Women would achieve some freedom from the clutches of the family institution if they had full control over their reproductive lives, she said.

Cartoon of a judge, priest and doctor standing on a pregnant woman

The afternoon session of the teach-in included excellent speeches by Dr Margaret Sparrow, Anne de Lacey Davidson of ALRANZ, and Phillida Bunkle, and a panel of three women from the National, Labour and Values Parties. A slide show on the history of the struggle for birth control, sex education and abortion was held in the Memorial Theatre, and at 5pm a special screening of the women's liberation film "Stand Up and Be Counted" was held at the Paramount Theatre.

The Sunday conference included workshop sessions of general perspectives for the women's abortion action campaign and ways to build it. The conference unanimously adopted a resolution to build an ongoing national women's abortion action campaign for repeal of the laws, free, easily available contraception and voluntary sterilisation. The resolution included the setting up of a national coordinating body and the launching of a march in all the main centres on Women's Suffrage Day, September 19. A national speaking tour of a leader of the Women's National Abortion Action Coalition in the USA was also projected for early 1974

The only thing that marred the weekend was the decision by the national executive of the Abortion Law Reform Association to hold a conflicting conference on Sunday. Despite an appeal to hold their meeting at a time which did not clash with the well-advertised women's abortion action conference, to which all ALRANZ women had been invited, the leadership went ahead with its own "national conference". Not only did the meeting go ahead, but it was held in the very next room and some effort was made to pressurise women from the women's abortion conference to go to the ALRANZ conference, which was attended by about 20 people.

But despite this intrusion, the National Women's Abortion Action Conference ended on an enthusiastic note, with many new women inspired to build the campaign for women's right to choose.