White Ribbon Reverses Abortion Decision After Enormous Public Pressure

White Ribbon has reversed its decision to withdraw a pro-safe access to abortion statement, following significant pressure and community backlash.

New CEO Tracy McLeod Howe has reinstated the organisation's reproductive rights policy, she said on Twitter, apologising for the "awful Twitter storm" she started.

"I should not have taken down [the] reproductive rights statement ahead of the planned community consult," she said on Twitter.

White Ribbon will undergo an "immediate and comprehensive process with all members", including ambassadors, advocates, supporters and stakeholders, a statement said.

It explained that the intention had been to remedy the process under which the original statement of support was issued, it was a mistake to take it down during that process.

"This has been misinterpreted as a change in stance around reproductive rights," the statement read.

On Twitter, McLeod Howe said that criticism on Twitter was "storming and becoming really abusive", forcing her to make a statement.

"It has gone to the core of who I am. Worked with women and kids since leaving law school, even in my government role."

Backlash over the decision to withdraw the statement -- which argued for sexual and reproductive rights being "basic human rights" -- had prompted abortion provider Marie Stopes to cut ties with the organisation.

"We are profoundly disappointed and have now cut ties with White Ribbon," Marie Stopes CEO Michelle Thompson told ten daily.

The two organisations were working together on the forthcoming Reproductive Coercion White Paper, which was due to be released on Friday.

However, White Ribbon withdrew its own statement in support of safe access to abortion, which Marie Stopes said made the working relationship untenable.

"[It] sends a dangerous message to our community and ignores the growing evidence of strong links between reproductive coercion, family violence, intimate partner violence and sexual violence," Thompson said.

READ MORE: Is Abortion Legal In Australia? It Depends On Your State

White Ribbon had released a statement in February 2017, which argued for the strong link between the prevention of bodily autonomy and the prevention of violence against women.

"Sexual and reproductive rights are basic human rights," it said.

"Denying a woman access to contraception and abortion is a denial of basic rights to health care. It impacts on a woman achieving economic and sexual self-determination and having full access to education and employment. It is a woman’s right to choose if and when she gets pregnant. It is a woman’s right to seek an abortion."

However, it revoked that statement this week, informing key stakeholders of the decision.

READ MORE: Queensland Parliament Vote To Decriminalise Abortion

As first reported by BuzzFeed News, McLeod-Howe said the organisation was "agnostic" about abortion "until our stakeholders tell us it is important to most of them."

“My job is to represent a movement of diverse members of a community who range in age and gender and religion and viewpoints," she told BuzzFeed News.

White Ribbon has been approached by ten daily for comment.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attending the White Ribbon Day breakfast at Parliament House in 2016. Photo: AAP.

The decision has prompted strong backlash online, with several people arguing it was a misstep by an organisation that aims to educate around male violence.

Several prominent women expressed their anger, hurt and bewilderment at the decision, and Labor's Tanya Plibersek said that White Ribbon needs to explain its decision.

Former Sydney Swans player Luke Ablett announced he would not be speaking at White Ribbon events until the organisation changes its support for abortion.

READ MORE: 'Archaic' NSW Should Legalise Abortion, Lawyers Say

Flinders University lecturer Rob Manwaring, who said he is a White Ribbon ambassador, tweeted he "strongly disagrees" with the organisation's actions.

"Women must have full access to abortion services and it is a fundamental part of gender equality," he said.

"We can't be 'agnostic' about gender equality."

White Ribbon works to educate Australians about violence against women in schools and workplaces, but has come under criticism by anti-violence advocates in the past over its priorities as an organisation.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Phoro: Facebook / White Ribbon