Right to Life are yet again trying to stop people’s access to abortion in New Zealand. They’ve been at it for 7 years, using resources that could be spent helping prevent unwanted pregnancies in New Zealand, but unsurprisingly they’re against that too.
This time Right to Life are trying to challenge the legality of Family Planning Tauranga’s provision of medical abortion for early stage pregnancies. So the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRANZ) cleverly organised a short lunchtime demonstration in support of Tauranga outside the High Court, consisting of a walk across the road to Parliament and some speakers from ALRANZ and Mother’s for Choice.
Demonstrations like these are a small but important reminder to Right to Life and the general public that people will always stand against attacks to our already meager abortion provisions. We’re not going anywhere, and we won’t stand by quietly.
Demonstrations like these are also one of the few spaces where people who can get pregnant, the majority of whom identify as women*, are at the forefront. Our issues are being yelled about in front of Parliament and the High Court. Women’s issues don’t often get yelled about, let alone there.
So when I noticed people from the International Socialist Organisation (I knew this, because they were heavily branded) I was initially pleased – the more bodies and solidarity, the better. But within a few minutes of arriving, one of them had come up to me:
“Hey, do you know if these have been handed around yet?” [waves fliers]
“Uh, no sorry, I’ve just arrived.”
“Oh ok, are you interested in this?” [holds up this flier]
“No. I’m interested in this” [I pointed to my sign reading “Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one.”]
At this, they defensively pointed to the ISO branded pro-choice sandwhich board they were wearing.
“Right.” I said.
During the rest of the maybe twenty minute protest containing under 70 people, I encountered a dozen or so other ISO people handing out fliers, fundraising for themselves by selling their magazine, or standing around heavily branded.
ALRANZ was also fundraising today, so I’d love to know if the ISO will be donating the money they made asking for donations from a crowd of people who’d come to support ALRANZ, back to ALRANZ who organised the event.
I understand that solidarity is powerful and important. I also think, as someone who went to Hungary to attend a socialist youth conference to work with other anti-capitalists on reproductive health, that capitalism and the misogyny it perpetuates creates is a major reason why abortion is still a crime in this country and many others.
But I don’t think that a small ALRANZ protest specifically about the protection of Tauranga Family Planning, is a place to hand out fliers about the Vietnam war or fundraise for your own organisation.
I think it’s at best bloody inappropriate, and at worst a self-centred use of a rare space specifically about issues relevant mostly to women. It felt like they were using their pro-choice signs as an entry ticket to raise their own profile. It felt invasive and gross, and nothing like solidarity.
Socialism is very relevant to reproductive health rights. I’m not inferring women, pro-choice activism and socialism or the ISO are mutually exclusive groups. But socialism is also, surely, about not dominating spaces organised by others to fundraise for yourself. It’s surely about helping lift up other organisations working concurrently to your cause even if that means your own organisation takes a back seat.
That said, I absolutely think it’s possible for organisations with their own visibility and brands to attend events organised by their allies. I think working side by side is beautiful, and it’s possible to use the opportunity of other organisation’s spaces to make attendees aware of different things they might be interested in.
But it requires balance and thoughtfulness. It requires taking a back step, getting explicit permission and letting attendees know what they can expect (that’s what Facebook events are great for) and stuff like showing respect by waiting until the end of the event to peddle your own wares. The ISO did none of this.
Spaces that focus on the rights of women and people who can get pregnant are precious and rare. If I wanted to have ISO members give me fliers about 50 year old wars or try and sell me their magazine, I’d go to one of their meetings.
*Women and people who can get pregnant are not necessarily the same group. Not all women can get pregnant though many of those who can get pregnant identify as women. Not all people with uteruses are women.