‘Our Bodies, Our Lives’: Hundreds protest against anti-abortion demonstration in London

The growing far right is fixated on limiting women’s reproductive freedom. rs21 member Colin Wilson reports from ‘Our Bodies, Our Lives’,  the lively counter-protest to the anti-abortion march in central London on 2 September.

Protesters shout and point angrily.
Photo Credit: Steve Eason, Flickr, 2023

Hundreds of people joined protests against the anti-abortion ‘March for Life’ in central London on Saturday 2 September. A few hundred metres from Parliament, a mixed-gender crowd of hundreds joined the protest organised by Feminist Fightback, Feminist Assembly of Latin Americans and DziewuchyLDN under the slogan ‘Our Bodies – Our Lives – Our Right to Decide’.

The counter-protest gathered over the road from the Emmanuel Centre, where the anti-abortion marchers were assembling. Several thousand marchers had been mobilised from across England – the ‘March for Life website listed transport from cities from Leeds to Plymouth. Roman Catholic churches were often key organisers – the Plymouth coach left from outside St Peter’s Catholic Church, the Southampton transport from Holy Family Catholic Church and so on. Priests, nuns and even monks joined the march, as well as a few people waving union jacks and England flags.

The anti abortion demonstrators hold various placards.
Photo Credit: Steve Eason, Flickr, 2023

Speakers at the counter-demonstration raised the need for anyone who is pregnant to have control over their body rather than being forced to give birth. Women and non-binary people from around the world, including Poland and Latin America, repeatedly stressed the need for solidarity with other groups under attack, including migrants and trans people – in particular, they highlighted the fact that abortion rights and trans rights are both struggles against sexism and for bodily autonomy. The links between abortion rights and other struggles was clear as a second march passed along the street calling for better homeless services and led by St Mungo’s workers, recently on strike – marchers were greeted with loud and sustained applause.

The counter-demonstration was outnumbered by the March for Life but successfully blocked their route. Pro-choice protesters marched around the corner and stood in the road, blocking the start of March for Life’s route as they left the Emmanuel Centre. For half an hour, pro-choice protesters stood in their way, confidently chanting and singing, including ‘Un violador en tu camino’ (A rapist in your path), a Chilean feminist protest song. Eventually, the anti-abortionists headed off in the opposite direction, taking a longer route to Parliament Square. We hadn’t been able to stop them, but we had delayed them and stopped them marching unopposed, and people who had taken part came away feeling buoyant.

A line of counter protestors on a pavement
Photo Credit: Steve Eason, Flickr, 2023

Several hundred more pro-choice campaigners took part in a second counter-protest in the centre of Parliament Square as the March for Life walked round it. This counter-protest was organised by the campaign group Abortion Rights, an organisation linked to MPs and charities, with funding and affiliations from many unions at a national level. The respectable politics of Abortion Rights were made clear when some pro-choice activists tried to block access to a stage set up by Movement for Life – an Abortion Rights organiser, asked if they would call for others to join in the blockade, refused on the grounds that people might worry about getting arrested. This focus on respectability is all the more striking since, to judge from this event, Abortion Rights has close links with the SWP, with several SWP trade unionist members speaking, and Abortion Rights sharing a Socialist Worker report on Twitter. The report praised the Parliament Square event but regrettably included no mention of the more successful ‘Our Bodies – Our Lives’ action.

Counter demonstrators speak to a crowd on steps
Photo Credit: Steve Eason, Flickr, 2023

This difference in tactics between the two counter-protests is important. Abortion is a focus for the growing far right internationally. In the US, Trump appointed Supreme Court justices who threw out Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision guaranteeing abortion rights. The far right government in Poland has almost completely banned abortion. In Hungary, since last September, those seeking an abortion must listen to the foetus’s heartbeat before the procedure takes place. We need the most effective protests possible. It was good to see both protests making links between organised workers and the fight for reproductive rights, but it’s also clear that the ‘Our Bodies – Our Lives’ organisers have a clearer political outlook (informed by international links) and more effective tactics.

To defeat the right’s sexist and transphobic attacks, we need united action and militant tactics. On Saturday, at the ‘Our Bodies – Our Lives’ counter-demo, people were actively involved, no one was arrested, mass protest made a difference and people came away cheerful. The action showed that even when you’re outnumbered, you can put forward a powerful feminist politics of solidarity and directly confront the anti-abortionists. In Parliament Square people passively listened to speakers, didn’t disrupt the march and achieved little or nothing. Actively and collectively confronting the right and the bigots seems the obvious strategy around which the left should unite.

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