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White Ribbon reinstates reproductive rights policy following backlash

White Ribbon Australia has reinstated its reproductive rights policy statement after huge backlash, but could still take a firm stance following a community consult.

CEO Tracey McLeod-Howe issued a mea culpa after the organisation removed a statement on its website committing to standing by women and their reproductive rights. McLeod-Howe said the intention was misconstrued and she still stands for women’s rights.

“MEA CULPA I should not have taken down reproductive rights statement ahead of the planned community consult,” McLeod-Howe said on Twitter.

“It is back on now. A full consult will happen: cultural + regional contexts can be included + other issues that matter to communities too.”

Ambassadors and supporters withdrew their support for White Ribbon after Buzzfeed News revealed it removed the statements on the grounds the organisation was now “agnostic”, just a day after Queensland legalised abortion.

McLeod-Howe said the organisation’s policy has been a constant source of negative feedback and complaints, and not just from pro-life activists. Staff members, volunteers and ambassadors were not adequately trained to support the policy.

“This subject is very dear to my heart. As an individual my view has always been that every woman needs to have the right to do what she chooses,” she told Women’s Agenda.

“As the CEO of an organisation I have to take into account the fact that the organisation is diverse and do consultation to inform our policies – that’s 101 of organising.”

McLeod-Howe said she has always been a “staunch reporter” in the area of reproductive rights and has helped to pay for women to access abortion during her time working at a women’s refuge. She said she also sent a staffer to Queensland to give evidence.

“I should have left statement on the website until after consult,” McLeod-Howe said on Twitter. “I am sorry for awful twitter storm I have started, although I know some warranted, many of the personal insults are not who I am.”

The fallout from removing the statement saw not only ambassadors and supporters voice their disapproval, but so too did other organisations aligned with White Ribbon. Marie Stopes Australia said the decision sent a “dangerous message” to the community.

In the previously withdraw statement, White Ribbon stood by reproductive rights and included research that found unplanned pregnancies are common among women experiencing domestic violence, and that pregnancy tended to exacerbate the situation.

“We are opposed to tall forms of control, violence and abuse,” it said.

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