The Right to Life Offensive since 1969

By McVey, Judy | Hecate, November 30, 1983 | Go to article overview

The Right to Life Offensive since 1969


McVey, Judy, Hecate


Since you can't go into abortion clinics with machine guns shooting at people to stop killing babies, you must use democratic means.(1)

This statement was made by a member of the Right to Life Australia RTLA); it was formed in 1979, and is the more extreme of the two groups organising in Australia around the anti-abortion platform. The other is the Right to Life (RTL), which has been operating since 1969. Despite almost fifteen years of activity, the crusade against abortion is still no closer to victory.

The success of pro-abortion forces has more to do with pro-abortion action -- and the desire of the medical profession to expand into the pregnancy termination business -- than with the slackness or mistakes of the RTL. But we should not be complacent, for abortion rights are still inadequate and what we have gained remains under threat until the repeal of abortion legislation is won and until abortions are available freely and safely, on demand.

Anti-Abortion Groupings and their Support

In 1983, the image of RTL in the media and our houses of parliament appears to be that of a major mass-based lobby group. In reality, it has a tiny base of support. The notoriety of such a minority grouping is the result of more than just efficient organisation. It takes money and connexions.

Money and resources come from churches, right wing groups and similar groups overseas. The Victorian-based Right to Life Australia (RTLA), enjoyed a $200,000 budget in 1981.(2) They had some success at raising funds through the state government for various "Pregnancy Help" clinics. Victorian Right to Life received the second largest grant of 123 groups funded under the Thompson (Liberal) governments family life program, a mere $115,233,(3) in 1982.

The stated major objective of RTL is to amend abortion legislation in the direction of making it impossible -- or at least difficult -- for women to obtain abortions. To this end, they have developed significant links with parliamentarians; there are well-established links with the leaders of all three major political parties in Queensland. Former parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Queensland Branch, Ed Casey, was also a Patron of RTL in 1980 when he publicly supported further restrictions on abortion in Queensland. Keith Wright, the present leader, was the only Labor MLA to vote in favour of the 1980 legislation. Their actions were in total opposition to the official policy of the Queensland Branch of the ALP which favours repeal of abortion laws. However, the Federal ALP policy officially allows all members to vote on the issue according to their conscience -- the same situation as applies in the Liberal and National Parties.

Certain politicians are only too willing to push the right wing barrow, enabling the far-right to have a direct influence on legislation despite their lack of support amongst the electorate. Occasionally, some show of popular support has been deemed necessary. There have been "Celebrate Life" marches in some cities, but it is well known that the bulk of the active supporters are organised for marches through the Catholic Church; they are not RTL activists. (It's worth noting that Brisbane and Melbourne marches have declined in size over the years.)

RTL obviously has to cater to a wide range of political support -- from conservative but timid christian moralists to the rabid right. Their activities vary from the respectable lobbying of MPs and education programmes to the violent picketing and harrassment of abortion clinics and their clientele. In 1978, RTL members held regular pickets outside Bertram Wainer's Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic; clients would be photographed and/or abused. In April, RTL demonstrators went inside the clinic and staged a sit-down protest outside the operating theatre. Mrs. Margaret Tighe, President of Victorian RTL, told the National Times what they hoped to achieve:

We knew our presence was stopping people from killing babies inside. …

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