The recent introduction of an abortion-related private member’s bill in the Victorian Parliament brought forth some interesting strategies and alliances. At the same time, it demonstrated the changing nature of gender politics.
The bill was introduced into the Victorian Parliament by Sex Party MP Fiona Patten. It aimed to set up exclusion zones around Victorian abortion clinics to push back protesters who had been harassing, assaulting and photographing women who come to the clinics. The situation had been ongoing for 20 years without any legislative relief – a clear indication of the political difficulty and sensitivity that it posed for both major parties.
The real story behind the introduction of the bill, which did not succeed and was eventually “debated out”, is that several women in the Victorian Upper House formed a broad, informal caucus. It comprised of Fiona Patten, the Liberals’ Upper House leader, Mary Wooldrige and Georgie Crozier, Labor’s Jaala Pulford and Jaclyn Symes, and the Greens Nina Springle and Colleen Hartlund. They had finally realised that women wanted an end to the human “baiting” that had become a daily ritual outside the clinics. The only man to speak on the bill, the Liberals’ Simon Ramsey, rightly said that men would never know what it must be like to go an abortion.
Ms Patten introduced the bill, exactly as she had promised in her election campaign. However, it was not going to become a law without broad cross-party support, which did not eventuate. This is because both Labor and Liberal parties had some strong anti-abortionists in their ranks who did not want this bill to go through.
When we have gender equity in politics, we create gender equity in the community. We can reduce discrimination and support progress by ensuring that women’s voices are heard in our parliaments. And the kind of politics we might see could be significantly different from what we are getting at the moment. It is significant that the speakers to this bill were capable of critically discussing substantive issues while working towards a common goal.