Saturday, April 1, 2023

Why Do We Protest? Because We’ve Got To Do Something: The Pro-Choice Marches Happening Around NZ

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Sarah Lang joins a march protesting the curtailment of American women’s rights to an abortion and looks at upcoming pro-choice marches happening around NZ.

On Friday at 4pm, a boy who looked about three sat on the grass in Civic Square in Wellington, eating a carrot and holding an upside-down sign that said ‘My mum is raising a feminist’. His mum smiled and turned it around the right way.

We were attending a protest held by the youth-driven organisation NZ Pro-Choice – #nzprochoice on Instagram – which brought together around 500 protestors. There were people of all ages, but the majority were students, some still wearing school uniforms. Some were young men.

We were there because we had to do more than scream into a pillow about the horror of what is happening in the U.S., following the Supreme Court ruling that removed federal protection of women’s rights to abortion.

We marched from Civic Square down Willis St, down Lambton Quay, past Parliament, to the U.S. Embassy in Thorndon. Cars passing or pausing at intersections tooted wildly, helping energise everyone. When things got quiet, an organiser started the chant: “What do we want? Choice. When do we want it? Always.”

Many signs were waved. Bans off My Body; Keep Your Policy Off My Pussy; Think Outside My Box; Keep Your Laws Out Of My Drawers; Abortion is Healthcare; Abort the Court; If You’re Against Abortions, Don’t Have One; Pregnancy Begins with a Penis; Pro-Choice is Forced Births; This Shouldn’t Even Be A Conversation; This Is The Worst Episode Of The Handmaid’s Tale Ever (props for fitting 10 words on one sign); The Handmaid’s Tale Isn’t An Instruction Manual (at seven words, also a feat). The indignation and anger were palpable, but so were the energy and determination.

No one came out of the embassy to greet us. Instead, anyone who wanted to do so talked through a megaphone about why they were there, to resounding applause that could be heard streets away.

“Why put someone that isn’t alive over someone who is?” someone asked. “You can get more time for abortion than rape!” someone else cried. “It’s fucked that a gun has more rights than a uterus,” someone said. “We don’t ask for rights over our bodies, we take them!” yelled another. “We are here for our sisters in the U.S!,” someone shouted.

Later that weekend, I told someone that I’d been to the protest. “What was the point?” they said. I stated calmly (ok, maybe not entirely calmly) something like “Of course, New Zealand women can’t do much – we can’t change what has happened, or what happens next – but we also can’t do nothing as women’s sovereignty over their own bodies gets stripped away.”

And who knows? Perhaps some American women will read a news story about protests happening around the world. Thousands of Australians protested about this in eight centres on the weekend.

Why else might we, as New Zealanders, bother protesting? Perhaps, partly, to send a message to Christopher Luxon, the National Party leader and wannabe PM who believes abortion is murder. If, like some, you want to split hairs about the exact wording, here’s what Newshub reported: “When asked to confirm if abortion is tantamount to murder, he said: ‘that’s what a pro-life position is’.” Sure, he’s ruled out changing abortion laws if he becomes PM, and yes Simon O’Connor took down his offensive Facebook post, but excuse us if we still feel nervous.

Also, and excuse the tangent, but ‘why would you bother’ is not that great a question. Why do we bother doing anything that’s not necessary to keeping ourselves alive and sheltered? Wouldn’t eating ice-cream on the couch have been a bigger waste of my time? (Rhetorical question, clearly ice-cream is very important.)

Upcoming Protests Around Aotearoa

Other protests are happening soon under the umbrella of the organisation NZ Pro-choice.

On Saturday 16 July, at 1pm, there will be a Pro-Choice Solidarity March at Aotea Square in Auckland, marching to the U.S Embassy on Customs Street. On Saturday 9 July, all are welcome at Auckland University for sign-making and banner-painting.

On Friday 15 July, at 1pm (adjust your lunch break!), there will be a Pro-Choice Solidarity Stand at Cathedral Square in Christchurch.

There’s also one in Napier, on Saturday 16 July, 1pm, at Clive Square and others are a-brewing (follow on NZProChoice instagram for more information.

What else can we do?

Many of us are barely getting by financially ATM, but if you can, consider donating to American organisations such as Planned Parenthood or Access Reproductive Care-Southeast. Then there’s WRRAP (Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project) Around for 30 years, but never been more needed, WRAAP is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation that assists women who are unable to pay for abortions or emergency contraceptives – helping them travel to clinics (including across state borders) and helping cover costs such as childcare. WRRAP works with reproductive-health clinics on behalf of the person in need, and also helps with the provision of abortion pills by mail.

WRRAP also enables you to write a letter to a woman or clinic to show support. What might ours say? That, in our small corner of the world, we’re gathering in our town squares to say to American women, should they happen to hear it, that we give a shit and that we stand with you.

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