'Abortion Is Healthcare': Year 12 Student Leads 2,000-Strong Rally For Reproductive Rights
More than 2,000 people, most of them young women, took to Sydney on Sunday to march for reproductive rights.
Teenage organiser Bella Ziade, a 17-year-old student in Year 12, said she expected 200.
"I feel so much energy -- so much positive energy and change. This is crazy," Ziade told 10 daily.
"Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is a fundamental human right."
Ziade and her friends decided to throw the rally in the wake of the United States rolling back abortion rights in several states, in some cases making it illegal to access an abortion after six weeks, even in cases of rape or incest.
"It was my emotional reaction to what was going on in the US, and the laws in Alabama and Mississippi," Ziade said.
I was talking to my friends, and I was like, we are so impacting by anything American. The laws here are so restrictive and limited, that could easily become our reality.
"There's nothing good that comes from silence. Change happens when you speak up," Ziade said. "So I created a march!"
'Unlawful' abortion is still a criminal offence in NSW, meaning women and others who can get pregnant cannot access abortion without certain conditions being satisfied. Advocates say this contributes to stigma and is confusing to health professionals, who may put the needs of a patient second to avoiding prosecution.
"It's really the luck of the draw when it comes to what GP she goes to, what hospital she goes to to ask for help, they could turn her away," NSW Pro-Choice Alliance campaign manager Sinead Canning told 10 daily.
"It's a travesty that that's happening. I think that young people talking about it is our future, and that's how we're going to achieve change."
Canning, who helped successfully campaign for decriminalisation in Queensland last year and is now in Sydney to try and achieve the same, got in contact with Ziade when she heard about the rally.
"People have been campaigning for this for over fifty years, and I think their voices are still so important, but Bella set up this march by herself," Canning said.
"This one had so many more young people than I've ever seen before. The crowd might trend towards 30s and 40s at one of these marches, but this march, I'd say the average age was about 19, which is really inspiring."
Carrying signs like 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Human Rights', 'Big Vagina Energy', and 'I'm A Woman, Not A Womb', walkers in the Our Body Our Choice march made their way from Hyde Park to Town Hall.
Walking with them was Terry, 56, who spoke about her own termination publicly for the first time.
"I'm encouraged by the young women who are standing up and fighting back," she told 10 daily.
"I had a termination when I was younger. My life would have been very different .... This is my first time saying it publicly. I have no shame."
Greens federal Senator Mehreen Feruqi, who introduced the first ever bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW, marched in the rally, as did Greens NSW MP Jenny Leong.
"Abortion must be legal and accessible," Feruqi tweeted. "This movement is why abortion decriminalised in NSW is not a matter of if, but when!"
Also in the crowd were 17-year-old high school students Mia Boys and Bronte Vanderfield, who came across the march on Facebook.
"Everyone needs to come together to support something like this," Boys said.
"Knowing people who have gone through things that would need abortion in their lives ... I think it's important."
Vanderfield said abortion wasn't really spoken about in school.
"I feel like it needs to be talked about a lot more because I feel like a lot of girls don't know what to do in that situation, or they're not educated enough. It's part of our lives."
Marchers chanted "Our bodies, our rights" as they made their way to Town Hall, with one bystander shouting "thank you, girls" as they passed.
Ziade, who is studying for her end of year exams, said it was vitally important to have young voices help lead the charge towards decriminalisation.
"We're change. We're in power soon. It starts from this awareness and education that young people are, I believe, so politically aware these days," she said.
"Change isn't happening in the older generations, so we have to do something."
First, however, she has one major task ahead of her.
"I just need to focus on my HSC right now," Ziade said.
"But this is definitely something I'm going to be carrying with me for the rest of my life."
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