North America

Condoms and body scans: Pussy Riot challenges Alabama abortion ban with sold-out show

Russian protest band Pussy Riot are donating proceeds from a sold-out show in Alabama to organisations fighting the abortion ban. Source: Twitter

The Russian punk band's much-anticipated concert to raise money to fight Alabama's abortion ban has gone ahead without incident despite a number of protesters gathering outside the venue.

Russian protest band Pussy Riot went ahead with a controversial show in Alabama on Friday, with proceeds going towards an ongoing fight to overturn abortion restrictions in the US state.

Outside the Saturn music venue in Birmingham, protesters from both sides of the debate marked the occasion by waving placards featuring depictions of deceased fetuses and bloody clothes hangers.

The protesters had some competition for numbers, however, as concert attendees reported that the line to enter the sold-out show wrapped around the block. Once at the door, one punter said attendees were forced to undergo a full body scan. 

Inside, condoms and morning-after pills were displayed on tables alongside pro-choice stickers for attendees to grab.

Despite Pussy Riot's history of controversial stunts, 36-year-old Blake Ells told SBS News the mood at the show was "perfectly pleasant".

"The scans were a preventative measure to keep any protesters from causing problems, but no protesters were causing problems," he said.

The russian punk group Pussy Riot performing live at Legend Club in Milan, Italy.
The russian punk group Pussy Riot performing live at Legend Club in Milan, Italy.
NurPhoto

"Everything was extremely tame and in this extremely liberal pocket of the South, everyone was on the same page."

On Monday the group announced the performance and said proceeds from the event would go towards Planned Parenthood and the Yellowhammer Fund, which seeks to provide financial support to anyone needing an Abortion in Alabama.

The band also premiered a new track called 'Hangerz', appearing to reference the dangerous practice of women using coat hangers to conduct abortions when the procedure is not legally available.

In May this year, Alabama successfully pushed through legislation making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape or incest, and punishable by 99 years in jail for doctors who perform the procedure. The only exception is in cases where the mother's health is at risk.

"It is ridiculous to me that it's still a question in 2019 whether women can have an abortion," Pussy Riot co-founder Nadya Tolokonnikova told AFP ahead of the performance.

"Many Americans, they believe that Russia is a patriarchal country - it's true in a lot of ways, but when it comes to abortion rights, it's not questionable."

The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to legalise abortion in 1920.

Speaking to the US ABC News earlier this week, Saturn co-owner Brian Teasley said organisers had been in talks with Pussy Riot's team before the abortion debate hit international headlines.

"It just gave it a little more of a layer of importance to them to come to Alabama and play this show, as opposed to it maybe just being a concert where Pussy Riot was playing," he told ABC News.

"But [for] a band that kind of revolves around protests, it just kind of made sense."

Pussy Riot was founded in August 2011 to draw attention to human rights violations and political oppression. The band rose to international prominence a year later after three of its members were imprisoned for a stunt at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

The members entered the cathedral to perform ‘Punk Prayer’, a song attacking the Orthodox Church’s support for President Putin, but were arrested and charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

Earlier this year, members of the band performing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival told SBS News that they were keen to learn more about the plight of asylum seekers in Australia's offshore detention.

“It is not my first time here. I met some activists before. I cannot say I am a professional on this topic, but I know about Christmas Island, and I know about the quite terrible situation with the refugees here," Founding member Maria 'Masha'Alyokhina said.

“So I think this is the main thing. And to speak more about this, I should do a collaboration with local activists here, which probably we will do.”

Four members of the band were also jailed in 2018 for storming the pitch during the World Cup final in Russia.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch