albury

In regional New South Wales a group of anti-abortion protestors backed by the Catholic Church have set up a US-style “fake abortion clinic”. The so-called ‘Women’s Life Centre’ (WLC) is located in Albury and claims to offer “the information you need to know about abortion”.

The Catholic activists behind WLC run extensive advertisements in the local Fairfax owned newspaper, the Border Mail, where they seek out women “facing an unplanned pregnancy or worried that they may be pregnant”.

The ‘Women’s Life Centre’ is modeled on the ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ popular among anti-abortion activists in the United States. These centres purport to offer free medical advice (although their Australian imitators are careful to avoid the word ‘medical’ for legal reasons), when in reality they offer a variety of deceptive practices intended to prevent women using effective emergency contraception or obtaining an abortion.

The establishment of the pseudo-clinic in Albury is part of a long running attack on women’s rights by Catholic fundamentalists in the NSW regional city. Albury is home to a branch of Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic, which has been under sustained attack by anti-abortion activists for approximately a decade.

In 2011 I was involved in a campaign to defend that clinic from a sustained campaign of harassment perpetrated by the so-called Helpers of God’s Precious Infants (HoGPI).

The FCC in Albury is the only dedicated fertility control clinic available to women in between Melbourne and Canberra. HoGPI are determined to discourage women accessing the clinic, and for approximately a decade they have staked-out the clinic whenever it has been open.

HoGPI’s self-described “prayer vigils” have included the surveillance and harassment women seeking to access fertility control.

The ‘Women’s Life Centre’ has been established by these same anti-abortion activists. The Director of the ‘Women’s Life Centre’ is Peta Evans, a spokesperson for the HoGPI campaign in Albury. The WLC’s domain name is registered to the ‘Trustee for the Catholic Parish of the Holy Spirit Lavington’.

Retired obstetrician and Albury based pro-choice campaigner, Dr Pieter Mourik, has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the WLC’s dubious “free pregnancy help”:

The Director of WLC is Mrs Peta Evans; her husband Dr Paul Evans, a general practitioner at The Gardens Medical Centre, is referred to for medical issues, despite the fact that Dr Evans has no specific women’s health qualifications. Dr Evans refuses to provide any contraception, other than “natural” as it is “against his strict religious beliefs”.

Volunteers at the WLC purport to offer counselling, pregnancy testing, education and “emotional support”. According to Dr Mourik:

The “volunteers” have no credentials (other than faith-based programs) to give emotional or medical advice …

They do not give unbiased advice, only anti-abortion rhetoric; their pamphlets are inaccurate and alarmist. The only “family planning” advice is “natural family planning”, which has a huge failure rate.

Prior to recent cuts at the Border Mail, the local paper provided extensive and rigorous coverage of the ongoing issue.

However, following significant staff cuts in 2015, the Fairfax owned paper has degenerated to the point where articles on important local issues read suspiciously like regurgitated press releases.

In a recent article, the Border Mail’s Jodie O’Sullivan explains how the ‘Women’s Life Centre pseudo-clinic is paired with a cafe, according to O’Sullivan it’s…

An unexpected oasis of loveliness tucked between a line of Lavington shops is serving up generous dollops of care with its coffee and cake.

At the ‘Esencia Cafe’ pregnant women can “listen to their baby’s heartbeat between coffee and cake … it’s beautiful”.

As Dr Pieter Mourik notes, in practice the “free ultrasounds” provided by these pseudo-clinics are intended to “[coerce] women to continue an unwanted pregnancy by increasing emotional distress”. It is the same reason that anti-abortion campaigners in the United States have campaigned for laws forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasounds and other invasive procedures.

Women’s rights are under attack in regional and rural Australia. In Albury alone there are GP’s refusing to prescribe effective contraception, and pharmacists refusing to supply it when it is prescribed.

Women seeking an abortion have to walk a gauntlet of religious protestors to access the only Fertility Control Clinic for three hundred kilometres, and this is assuming they went to the one that will actually perform an abortion, rather than the religious run guilt tripping look-a-like clinic.

Now more than ever, town’s like Albury need strong campaigns in defence of women’s rights. If you are in New South Wales I would recommend checking out Children by Choice and the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign.

The Fake Abortion Clinics of America

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UPDATE, July 18: A letter pruporting to be from Felicity Ryder has appeared on various anarchist websites, details here.

To my brother Mario, I send him a giant hug and much strength and health. I know that he will always maintain his convictions strong, as well as his desire to achieve Total Liberation. I will always be by your side, compañero. Remember, always face to face with the enemy!

I also send a warm greeting to the fugitive comrades Diego Rios and Gabriela Curilem in Chile. A warm hug to the comrades from the CCF and Revolutionary Struggle in Greece, to the anarchist comrades in prison in Italy, to Braulio Duran, Luciano Pitronello, Gabriel Pombo da Silva, and to all of the anarchist prisoners and fugitives all over the world.

Que viva la Anarquia!

Felicity.

UPDATE, July 6: via Andy Fleming:

According to El Universal, and contrary to other reports , Felicity has not been arrested but rather is being sought by police, to which end a warrant has been issued for her arrest by the Mexico City attorney general. Migration authorities and Interpol have also apparently been alerted.

UPDATE, 11:00pm, July 5: This statement was published on various spanish language sites earlier today [machine translation here]. It pruports to be from 19 different Insurrectionist Anarchist (and similiar) groups.

Again, I don’t speak Spanish, and through a machine translation parts of it are very unclear, but it appears to state that neither Mario Hernandez nor Felicity Ryder have any direct connection to any Mexican Insurrectionist groups. It states that Mario and Felicity were involved in the editorial collective of Conspiración Ácrata, an English language publication focused on Insurrectionist Anarchism in Mexico.

The statement states that the arrest of Felicity is part of an ongoing attempt by the Mexican state to criminalise dissent, and that the arrest of Felicity reminds them of the 2009 arrest of Ramsés Villareal (a student framed by Police for previous bombings). A brief run down of the Ramsés Villareal case:

Federal agents snatched Ramses Villareal Gomez, a 27-year-old Mexico City university student, and put a bag over his head before they took him to the Federal Attorney General’s Office. …

Villareal Gomez reports that during the interrogation following his arrest, police demanded that he tell them who threw the bombs or they would rape his wife when they searched her home. …

Police immediately attempted to paint Villareal as a student-terrorist. They claimed that when they searched his home following his arrest, they found a 22 caliber rifle, a pistol, explosives, and documentation linking him to a “subversive” movement. …

On October 2, a judge ordered that the government release Vilareal Gomez. The judge ruled that the arrest of Villareal Gomez was illegal due to lack of sufficient evidence against him. Following his release, the Federal Police had to admit that they were “mistaken” in claiming that they had found weapons, explosives, and incriminating documents in Villareal Gomez’s house. Villareal Gomez’s lawyer is now preparing to file charges against the interrogators for psychological torture.

UPDATE, 1:34am, July 4: A statement pruporting to be from Mario Hernandez was posted on a Mexican anarchist website, Material Anarquista. I don’t speak Spanish, and it’s not clear through a machine translation what exactly Hernandez is claiming [Update 6 July, English text here]. It is clear that he does not mention Felicity Ryder [Update 6 July, with access to a better English translation, it seems he may be referring to Felicity at one point.]

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Last night [July 2nd] The Age newspaper reported that:

AN Albury woman has been linked to bombings carried out by a Mexican anarchist group.

Melbourne Anarchist Andy Fleming has compiled what information can be found online about the matter here. I’ve been asked by some in Albury Wodonga what my thoughts, as an Anarchist and an Albury Wodonga resident, are on the matter.

  1. According to Mexican media, on the 27th of June Mario Antonio Lopez Hernandez was injured by an incendiary device he was carrying. Mexican Police claim that during questioning, Hernandez confessed to being responsible for a number of bombings, and mentioned Felicity Ann Ryder in some way.
  2. The Anarchist Black Cross (Mexico) and the Group of Lawyers in Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners [Correction July 5: ABC Mexico statement is different to Group of Lawyers statement, below is ABC statement, Group of Lawyers statement is here] have published a statement raising concerns about the way in which Hernandez was questioned. They point out that Hernandez was questioned whilst recovering from anaesthesia, having just undergone significant skin graft surgery. They also point out that:

    it is unclear what the charges for his arrest are as they have varied each time clarifications were requested, which seems to indicate that they are trying to put together a case, with the most recent being criminal damage and attacks against public property. The comrade Mario testifies to be an anarchist but categorically denies being part of the ‘#yo soy 132’ movement or the ‘Tenochtitlán Salvation Front (FST)’ mentioned in the Press.

  3. Beyond the fact that Mexican Police are either questioning or seeking to question (there are conflicting reports) Felicity Ann Ryder, there is presently no information linking the Albury resident to recent incendiary attacks in Mexico city.

Whilst it is unclear what Felicity Ann Ryder’s personal political position is, or what her involvement in Mexican anarchism may or may not be, let me state:

  1. Felicity Ann Ryder and her family have my solidarity in this trying time, and if there is anything I can do in my limited capacity to support them at this moment, I will.
  2. I would not take at face value anything the Mexican police and authorities claim about Anarchism or the alleged actions of Anarchists, especially in light of troubled recent history.

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More broadly I have been asked whether, as an anarchist, I support “these kinds” of tactics.

Whether it’s firebombing buildings or kneecapping executives or breaking windows; individual destructive or terroristic acts in no way challenge the basis of capitalism or exploitation.

They do however provide a lovely pretext for repression, and alienate many people that real anarchists are trying to work with in order to achieve change.

Capitalism cannot be dismantled by blowing up key buildings or killing key individuals because capitalism is not a small group of bad people or a handful of repressive organisations. It’s a total system of social organisation, that can only be dismantled by the mass action of the majority society.

If you think your act will somehow transform people’s perceptions and inspire mass resistance, you are wrong. A violent or destructive act is perceived according to the ideas held by the observer. You might think that broken window demonstrates resistance against the banking system, but unless the people observing share your ideas, all they will see is a broken window. “Propaganda of the Deed” doesn’t work, Anarchists have known this for a hundred and thirty years (and even in the 1880s, the vast majority of anarchists rejected insurrectionist tactics).

I recommend the following:

  1. You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship is a joint pamphlet of Australian Anarchist groups in the late 1970s, outlining the case against terroristic or vanguardist politics. I get the feeling that it’s directed more at the then Maoist scene, but it’s relevant to all anti-capitalists debating questions of violence.
  2. Social Anarchism and Organisation, on the organisational, political and social work we need to undertake if Anarchism is to ever pose a serious challenge to capitalism.

Having said this, I should note that neither I, nor the vast majority of Anarchists in Australia, advocate a strict pacifist rejection of all ‘violence’. If Police or strike breakers are busting up a picket line, I would never tell workers not to push back!

And during mass action, it may of course be necessary to take action in self defense.

The measure of tactics has to be their effect. In our present situation, we know that individual acts of violence and destruction achieve nothing, harm our ability to organise, and distract from the real political work that needs to be undertaken.

If it does in fact turn out that Felicity and Mario are connected, and are involved in these kinds of tactics, they, like all imprisoned for their involvement in the struggle, will still have my support as comrades, even if I criticize their choice of tactics.

Solidarity.

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It seems the #albchoice campaign will be ongoing, as the religious fundamentalistsramp up their picket of Albury’s Fertility Control Clinic, and supporters of women’s rights continue to campaign in it’s defense.

I’ve setup something of an unofficial campaign website (hard to have an official website for a campaign with no formal structure or leadership) at Albury Choice.org. Please share it around.

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