On Thursday Cory Bernardi, the Australian Conservatives senator, moved a motion in the Senate to criticise White Ribbon Australia for its pro-choice stance.
He asked senators to challenge White Ribbon about its advocacy for “nationally consistent access to safe and legal abortion, including late-term abortion in all states and territories”.
Such a position is hardly surprising from the staunchly conservative Bernardi but what is extremely surprising is that the Minister for Women, Senator Michaelia Cash, crossed the floor to vote for it. Her vote wasn’t enough and the motion was defeated 31 to 21.
White Ribbon is an organisation dedicated to reducing and eliminating violence against women and in a joint statement Labor ministers Terri Butler and Tanya Plibersek expressed dismay that the motion received the minister of women’s support.
“Reproductive coercion is an insidious form of domestic violence. There is no reason at all why White Ribbon should not be entitled to be, and to state that it is, pro-choice,” the statement reads. “As Minister for Women, Senator Cash should be supporting moves to reduce and eliminate violence against women, not joining forces with Cory Bernardi in this stunt.”
— Terri Butler MP (@terrimbutler) November 16, 2017
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsWhenWomen’s Agenda contacted Michaelia Cash’s office for comment a government spokesperson offered this statement:
“The Government wholeheartedly supports the work of White Ribbon Australia and fully respects its position on this matter. The views expressed by White Ribbon are entirely a matter for the organisation.”
Reproductive freedom means women having control over their sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence. It is a fundamental human right that is critical to women’s independence and equality. And yet in 2017 in Australia it remains far from entrenched.
Around half of all women in Australia can legally access an abortion but for the other half, it’s a crime they can be jailed for.
For those who can access an abortion legally, there are several restrictions that make it difficult, or even impossible. Cost is also a significant issue, often affecting those in rural and remote areas more so than women in cities.
According to the government spokesperson the senate motion did not advocate for or against White Ribbon’s policy position and the Minister does not believe that White Ribbon should not be pro choice.
Women’s Agenda was told the Government supports women exercising choice in relation to reproductive rights and neither the Minister nor the Government wish to change any laws in any way that would diminish reproductive rights.
It still begs the question – why did the Minister for Women support Bernardi’s motion which called for senators to express their concerns to White Ribbon Australia about it’s advocacy for access to abortion?