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The Greens and the campaign for a woman’s right to choose

By Sylvia Hale - posted Thursday, 21 September 2017


A woman's right to choose has been centre stage in terms of policy and campaigns for the Greens NSW since the party was formed in 1984. The party's first federal election candidate, Daphne Gollan, and activist member Jenny Ryde did ground breaking work on this key issue. On being elected to parliament Kerry Nettle, Lee Rhiannon and Mehreen Faruqi all continued their public support for abortion rights. This history of the Greens and the party's work for reproductive rights is another clear example of the role that social movements play in driving progressive change.

The 1960s

The freedom many, but by no means all, young Australians experienced in the 1960s was unparalleled: a booming economy meant it was not a question of whether you would get a job, but which job you'd take. Significant increases in university scholarships created opportunities previously unimaginable for children from working-class families.

Popular culture and social protest movements slowly undermined perceived social and religious certainties.

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And into this mix was thrown, in February 1961, an easy-to-use, easy-to hide reliable contraceptive, Anovlar. For the first time in this country, a woman's ability to control her fertility became a reality.

But it was not a reality for all. The pill was available only on prescription, which many doctors refused to provide to an unmarried woman; advertising contraceptives was forbidden; the pill was subject to an exorbitant 27.5% luxury tax; and it was useless after the event. From 1946 until the early 1970s, out-of-wedlock pregnancies continued to rise.

For some, the emerging women's liberation movement posed questions that demanded answers: Was domestic bliss all it was cracked up to be? Why was a man admired for sowing his wild oats while the woman was damned as a whore? Did a woman ask to be raped?

Thus, at the very time that it was becoming easier for a woman to prevent a pregnancy, the women's movement directed its energies to advocating a woman's right to terminate a conception. The unifying principle, of course, was a woman's right, free from duress, to choose whether or not to bear a child.

In May 1970, a coalition of groups at a public meeting at Sydney University had formed what became the Women's Abortion Action Campaign to challenge Australia's abortion laws. Their efforts paid off some 15 months later when five staff members of Heatherbrae Clinic in Sydney were acquitted of charges that they had assisted in the performance illegal abortions.

The ruling of the presiding judge Aaron Levine - that the overriding principle was the welfare of the mother - meant that thenceforth in New South Wale it was possible for most women to obtain a safe abortion even though it was technically unlawful under the state's Crimes Act.

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Confronting that 'technicality' has been an on-going objective for pro-choice advocates, Greens members and for Greens MPs at both the state and federal levels.

The Greens

The Greens NSW is the only significant political party in Australia to advocate from its inception that a woman had the right to determine her reproductive destiny.

In 1984, historian Daphne Gollan, an active member of Women's Liberation in Canberra in the 1970s, was the first Greens member to stand for election. In October 1984, The Greens in Sydney issued a draft election platform that outlined the party's policies under each of the four foundational pillars. Under 'Social freedom and democracy' the party's first priority was

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About the Author

Sylvia Hale was a Greens member of the NSW Legislative Council, 2003-2010. Prior to that she was a joint-founder of and publisher at Hale & Iremonger, 1977-2003.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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