Last night, more than 400 loud and enthusiastic pro-choice supporters protested outside Central Hall Westminster against the London leg of an anti-abortion road show with Ann Widdecombe MP and Lord David Alton.
The lively crowd, including pro-choice activists, students, trade unionists, and others, brought banners and placards, and raised their voices demanding 'our bodies, our lives, our right to decide' 'not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate' and 'hey, ho, attack our rights? We say no!'
and could be heard across at Parliament. Colourful placards read '83 per cent support choice', 'no attack on the time limit - defend a woman's right to choose' and 'more abortion rights, not less!'.
The protest showed the strength feeling in support of a woman's right to choose on abortion and against any planned attacks on women's abortion rights in Parliament by anti-abortion MPs in coming months - particularly on the abortion time limit. The road show with Ann Widdecombe aims to mobilise anti-abortionists to lobby MPs ahead of key votes.
The wide range of support expressed for the protest included Christine McCafferty MP, Emily Thornberry MP, Fiona McTaggart MP; Baroness Joyce Gould, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Katherine Rake, Director Fawcett Society; Anni Marjoram, Advisor to Mayor of London; Jane Loftus, CWU President; Siobhan Endean, Women's Officer UNITE the UNION; Sharon Green UNISON; Megan Dobney, Secretary SERTUC; Kat Stark NUS Women's Officer;.
The protest follows a huge public meeting called by Abortion Rights in Parliament on 16th February to launch the pro-choice campaigning around the HFE Bill. The meeting attracted so many, that supporters queued around the building to get in and speakers from all three main parties rotated between overspill rooms to address the crowds.
Abortion Rights will be calling public initiatives at every key stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Further protests are planned are being organised for Liverpool on 12th February, Coventry on 13th February and Cardiff on 4th March 2008. The next mobilisation in London will be for International Women's Day on 8th March. The will be a mass lobby of parliament and other activities at later stages of the Bill. Details to be announced at www.abortionrights.org.uk
Christine McCafferty MP said:
We heavily defeated Nadine Dorries MP's backbench Bill to lower the abortion time limit last year. I led the opposition. I spoke and I voted against it and I am determined that any similar amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill must be defeated again. In the 40th anniversary year of the enactment of the 1967 Abortion Act, we cannot allow the tiny minority who oppose all abortion to chip away women's fundamental rights. Women's rights should be extended not restricted.
Baroness Jenny Tonge In the next few weeks amendments to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill will be tabled by abortion opponents in the House of Commons. The House of Lords rejected the one amendment tabled on abortion for foetal disability by 4 to 1. This was very encouraging because there had been heavy lobbying by groups opposing abortion. All of you here today must lobby your MP to make sure that he or she knows that women must retain the right to choose whether or not they continue with a pregnancy. This is the most important issue. We must not let them dilute the
1967 Act in any way.
Katherine Rake Director Fawcett Society Today, women across the UK are celebrating the anniversary of a momentous historical event. On this day ninety years ago women won the right to vote.
It is ironic that this very day, women are having to meet to organise in defence of another hard-won right: the right for women to make decisions about their own bodies.
The Fawcett Society fully supports Abortion Rights' Pro-choice Campaign. The further restrictions which are being proposed to women's access to abortion would be a regression of women's fundamental rights.
The right to an abortion is vital in itself. But there are also clear links between women's reproductive rights and broader equality between women and men - a woman's right to choose is linked to her ability to make economic choices, choices about partnerhips, and choices about her own health.
Women campaigned for the vote, and for the right to abortion, so that they would be able to have control over decisions which affected their lives. We must continue fighting to ensure that these rights are built upon, not eroded, in the coming years.
Louise Hutchins Abortion Rights Campaign Coordinator said:
Abortion Rights is determined that all anti-abortion amendments moved as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently in Parliament are defeated, and that any opportunity to advance the abortion law for women is maximised. We are protesting as a positive public expression of the strength feeling of the pro-choice majority and of opposition to organised attacks on women's fundamental rights.