Police clash with pro-choice protesters outside St Mary’s Cathedral
Content warning: abortion, misogyny, police brutality, paedophilia, sexual assault
Earlier today, approximately 75 people gathered outside St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, to counter-protest the Day of the Unborn Child, an annual event held by the anti-choice, Catholic group Life and Family Australia.
The annual counter-protest was organised by the University of Sydney Women’s Collective, with speakers including the Sydney University Women’s Officers and protest organisers Madeline Ward and Jessica Syed, as well as pro-choice activist Jessika Faithfull.
Syed told Vertigo, “The anti-abortion rhetoric of the Catholic Church and its subsidiary organisations such as Life and Family Australia is a form of violence. The patriarchal institution of the church shames people who choose to have an abortion and encourages archaic backyard coat hanger procedures, which no one should be subject to in a country with a healthcare system such as Australia’s.”
The speakers drew attention to the fact that abortion is still considered a crime under New South Wales legislation, reducing accessibility for those seeking the medical procedure. Faithfull pointed out that this accessibility is further limited for people seeking abortions who live in rural areas or are low income. The speakers also discussed the need for safe zones around clinics that provide abortions in order to prevent patients from being harassed by anti-choice protesters.
As the attendees of the Day of the Unborn Child spilled out from St Mary’s Cathedral and began their procession, the crowd began chanting slogans that included, “keep your rosaries off our ovaries,” and “Catholic Church, go away, how many kids have you raped today?”.
Despite intentions for a peaceful protest, there was a heavy police presence. The police in attendance included members of the riot squad, as well as mounted police, who attempted to forcibly remove the assembled protesters from the St Mary’s Cathedral. This occurred in spite of the fact that the protest’s organisers had completed a form giving notice of intention to hold the protest. Submission of this form, commonly known as a ‘Form 1’, prevents police from preventing a peaceful public assembly without a court order, however in this case they were undeterred. This forcible, physical intervention by police led to the arrest of at least one protester.
Ward told Vertigo, “We did our best to cooperate with police demands whilst asserting our right to protest. Unfortunately the police were less interested in cooperating with us and more interested in violently assaulting our protesters.
“We found the behaviours of the police today to be entirely unnecessary and brutal in the extreme.”
The behaviour of the police, although extreme, did not deter the protesters or the organisers of the event, who have stated they will continue their work. “As a feminist organisation it is important for us to react proactively to any and all who support, endorse or believe in this kind of theocratic, and indeed, violent nonsense,” Syed stated.
“We will continue to oppose it publicly – notwithstanding the abuse we receive for our stance – until abortion is safe, legal and free in this country and worldwide.”