On January 16, a parliamentary rally organised by Abortion Rights packed out two committee rooms with over 300 people. Speakers included various MPs and Lords from all three parties, the TUC women’s officer, an adviser to Ken Livingstone and the Fawcett Society.
In the usual mould of such meetings the platform was full and speeches took the majority of the time, leaving little for contributions from the floor. Activists were told of the parliamentary threat and the possibility of a victory in repealing the “two doctors” rule when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology act passes and assured that the support for abortion rights crosses the “parliamentary divide”.
The most radical speech of the evening came (surprisingly) from Diane Abbott, denouncing the anti-choice lobby and explaining they’re motivated by hatred of women, not concern for children (she highlighted their lack of interest in child poverty and the welfare of asylum-seeking children).
When speakers from the floor got a chance, they were almost all more activist-focused and posed more radical demands. A Green Party member raised a few heckles when she claimed they’re the only party with a pro-choice “line” on abortion rights — despite the complaints of staunch Labour hacks, this is technically true as the three main parties all allow a free “conscience” vote in the Commons. Various contributions posed the need for direct action, which thankfully appears to (finally) be listened to by Abortion Rights — they’re staging a picket of Ann Widdecombe’s forthcoming anti-abortion speaker tour on 6 February.
Questions raised by Feminist Fightback activists about unity with the trade union movement, mass direct action and demands around real choice for working class women (living minimum wage, free universal childcare, ending NHS privatisation etc.) were not picked up on by speakers replying to the audience, and still appear a step too far for a cross-party lobbying campaign. The move to direct action is a positive step however, and socialist activists should intervene on demonstrations with our own demands for reproductive rights.