Workers Vanguard No. 1074
18 September 2015
Defend Planned Parenthood!
For Free Abortion on Demand!
In the unending barrage of attacks on abortion rights, right-wing bigots are once again targeting Planned Parenthood, one of the leading providers of affordable contraception, abortion and women’s health care in the U.S. David Daleiden, of the grotesquely misnamed Center for Medical Progress, set up a phony biomedical research company and then made undercover videos of meetings with Planned Parenthood employees about the entirely legal procurement of fetal tissue donated for research by patients. Edited to the point of misrepresentation, these “sting” videos were seized upon by largely Republican Congressmen to propose cutting all federal funds to Planned Parenthood—and threatening to hold the federal budget hostage this fall if they don’t get what they want. Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million—over 40 percent of its annual funding—from government sources, mostly Medicaid.
Not willing to wait, five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Utah—have already moved to cut funds for Planned Parenthood. The response of feminists and liberals has been defensive, with Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, apologizing for the “tone and statements” of the staff in one of the videos. On September 4, with the anti-abortion bigots emboldened by wide press coverage of the efforts to demonize the organization, an arson attack destroyed the Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington.
The crusade against Planned Parenthood is an attack on the millions of women—many of them young, uninsured, poor and minority—who use its services. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2012 that 80 percent of Planned Parenthood patients had incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. A September 1 article in the New York Times described what Planned Parenthood did last year in Louisiana: “administer nearly 20,000 tests for sexually transmitted infections, as well as provide gynecological exams, contraceptive care, cancer screenings and other wellness services for nearly 10,000 mostly low-income patients.”
In the face of the decades-long anti-abortion onslaught, the feminists’ strategy of lobbying, voting Democrat and delivering legal briefs before the Supreme Court has consistently ceded more ground to the forces of reaction. In the 1990s, groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) actively worked to demobilize clinic defense actions, preaching confidence in Bill Clinton. In office, Clinton viciously attacked black, poor and working-class women by slashing welfare and forcing recipients into low-wage, dead-end workfare jobs that did not pay enough to cover childcare.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which struck down state anti-abortion laws, was a product of broad social struggles in the U.S. at the time—from the civil rights movement to the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. But like all democratic rights under capitalism, the right to abortion is fettered by race and class. If you are poor, black, Latina or immigrant; if you can’t afford the cost of an abortion, or the time off work; if you don’t have medical insurance, or your insurance won’t cover abortion; or if you are underage, then your legal right is already attenuated almost to nonexistence. At the same time, simple lack of access to what remains of abortion rights afflicts women of all backgrounds except the very wealthiest: an estimated 89 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion facilities.
As we wrote last year:
“While abortion should be merely a question of basic health care, the anti-women bigots view it as a threat to the patriarchal family, the main source of women’s oppression and a key prop of capitalist class rule. Unrestricted access to abortion and contraception is essential for all women to exercise control over whether and when they will have children. There is an urgent need for mass struggle to defend abortion rights. As Marxists, we fight for free abortion on demand as part of a system of quality health care for all that is free at the point of delivery.”
—“For Free Abortion Available
to All!” WV No. 1052,
19 September 2014
In recent years, the anti-abortion forces have been pushing state laws known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) that aim to erect insurmountable barriers to keeping abortion clinics open. These medically useless regulations commonly require expensive building upgrades (such as widened hallways) and compel physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals that often will not grant them. In Texas, such laws have resulted in the number of abortion clinics plummeting from 41 to 18. There is a relentless barrage of anti-abortion legal moves, from parental consent and “squeal rules” to waiting periods and even obscene prosecutions of individual women after miscarriages on grounds of alleged drug use or drinking alcohol—personal choices that should be no one else’s business.
Roe v. Wade, which was based narrowly on a woman’s right to privacy, struck down bans on abortion in the first trimester, but it did not prevent states from targeting women in later stages of pregnancy. And they have. Late-term abortions are illegal in 19 states; violent harassment and murder have reduced the number of physicians willing to perform late-term abortions to four in the entire country. “Fetal pain” bills ban abortions at 20 weeks, and “conscience” laws allow health care workers and institutions to deny service to desperate women.
In a sinister new move, a bill in Ohio would criminalize a woman’s decision to abort a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome. A similar bill is already on the books in North Dakota. Continuing a campaign to foster the religious notion that a fetus is a “person” with its own rights, the self-proclaimed “pro-life” opponents of “big government” would surely oppose any government assistance in raising, educating or supporting the thousands of actual human beings who would be born with this disability.
Democrats: The Other Party
of Anti-Woman Capitalism
While some Democratic politicians posture as champions of “choice,” recognizing the simple fact that most people in this country are in favor of some kind of abortion rights, they do not want to yield the terrain of religious moralism and “family values” to their bourgeois competition. While professing support for women’s rights (though rarely even uttering the word “abortion”), they join in backing many of the key measures that restrict reproductive rights, from blocking young people’s access to contraception and abortion to banning late-term abortions.
Though the religious, Republican right grabs the anti-abortion spotlight, restricting women’s rights has always been very much a bipartisan affair. Just a few years after the Roe ruling, Illinois Republican Henry Hyde proposed ending Medicaid funding for all abortions. His goal was stamping out the right to abortion for all women, but he settled for the most vulnerable: at that time, Medicaid funded one-third of all abortions in the U.S. The avowedly evangelical Democratic president Jimmy Carter signed the Hyde Amendment into law, and it has been renewed by Congress every year since 1980. For 23 of the last 27 years, Congress has also forbidden the District of Columbia from using its own revenues to fund abortions for poor women, as the 50 states can; 93 percent of the women affected are non-white. Bill Clinton signed this ban six times during his presidency. How many women have been forced to bear children they did not want and could not afford is unknown.
Obama’s signature health care “reform” act explicitly denies any federal funding for abortions unless the pregnancy results from rape or incest or is a threat to the health of the mother. Under current regulations in the Affordable Care Act marketplace, individuals looking for private insurance that will cover abortion can be faced with a surcharge. And of course there are zero health dollars for undocumented immigrants. On contraception as well, the Obama administration has promoted anti-sex backwardness. In 2011, the administration overrode the FDA’s decision to allow over-the-counter access for teens to Plan B One-Step, the “morning after” pill. Only after a federal judge ruled that the decision was “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent” did the Justice Department back down in 2013.
Since the origin of our species over 100,000 years ago, adolescents have been sexually active. Haranguing teenagers to “just say no” to sex is a losing battle if ever there was one. In a refreshing shift from all the ignorant, punitive “abstinence only” school programs, a privately funded 2009 program in Colorado offered teenagers and young women free intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants. In six years, birthrates dropped by 40 percent and abortions fell 42 percent among teenagers; there were equally impressive rates among women under 25. Some of the biggest drops came in the state’s poorest areas. But the private funding ran out, and state legislators earlier this year refused a request for $5 million to keep the program alive.
For teenagers who do get pregnant, even having a sympathetic parent is not necessarily a safeguard from Orwellian government regulations. In 2014, a Pennsylvania woman, Jennifer Ann Whalen, was jailed for buying misoprostol and mifepristone (formerly RU-486) online for her teenage daughter. A personal-care aide, Whalen did not have insurance covering her daughter and could not afford $500 for an abortion. The pills cost $45 and are safe and effective. This FDA-approved alternative to surgical abortion is now the treatment of choice for roughly a quarter of women seeking abortions. But because she did not have a prescription, and her daughter did not take the pills under a doctor’s supervision, Whalen was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, dispensing drugs without a license and assault.
For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
While the bourgeois feminists respond to attacks on abortion rights by pleading with the Democrats, the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party’s (RCP) Stop Patriarchy campaign offers a more militant version of “fight the right” pressure politics. For the last couple of summers, Stop Patriarchy has organized Abortion Rights Freedom Rides into Bible Belt country, including protests in places like Jackson, Mississippi, and Wichita, Kansas. No doubt, activists boldly chanting “abortion on demand and without apology” are a welcome sight for beleaguered clinic staff. But by aiming its fire against the “fascist” Republican governors and bemoaning the Democrats’ “craven defensiveness” (revcom.us, 27 July), the RCP at bottom expresses the same aim as liberals: get the supposedly pro-choice Democrats to stand up for women. One need only recall its long-running campaign to “Drive Out the Bush Regime!” which finally achieved...the election of Barack Obama. The RCP’s message is clear: the Republicans are enemies of the people (true enough), so the Democrats, the lesser evil, are preferable.
It is not that the Democratic Party is a half-hearted friend of the workers and oppressed—on the contrary, it represents the interests of the capitalist ruling class that owns the means of production and lives off the labor of the working class. Likewise, feminism speaks for bourgeois and wealthy petty-bourgeois women whose quarrel with capitalist society is that it denies them full access to the boys’ club of ruling-class power. The RCP and Stop Patriarchy pander to bourgeois feminism, not least in their puritanical railing against everything from pornography to thongs to strip clubs—things the feminists falsely present as sources of women’s oppression. In fact, the RCP’s anti-sex moralism buys into the same “family values” pushed by the anti-abortionists (see “Church of Avakian Decrees: No Nudes Is Good Nudes,” WV No. 1020, 22 March 2013).
The war on abortion rights is part of the bipartisan assault on the rights and living conditions of working people—from union-busting, poverty wages and layoffs to skyrocketing medical costs and the shredding of what is left of the social safety net. The Spartacist League has always fought for free abortion on demand and free quality health care for all as part of a broader program of revolutionary working-class struggle. We seek to build a party that will make the working class conscious of the need to fight for its own class interests as well as those of women and all the oppressed.
Working women come home to their “second job”—the tasks of maintaining the family and raising the next generation of workers. Abortion is an explosive social issue because it offers women some control over their own sexuality and reproduction, thus challenging women’s inequality. Any question that touches upon the equality of women runs straight up against religion and the institution of the family—vital props for the capitalist system of exploitation and its oppression of women and youth (see “The Marxist Approach to Women’s Liberation—Communism and the Family,” WV Nos. 1068 and 1069, 15 and 29 May).
Only a deep-going transformation of society can redress the oppression of women. Our program is the struggle for socialist revolutions internationally, sweeping away the capitalist system by destroying the power of the capitalist rulers and breaking down the racist and sexist divisions that have served as tools of their domination. The rule of the working class and the establishment of an internationally planned economy will open the road to socialism.