Workers Vanguard No. 1102
16 December 2016
Tennessee Tortures Woman for Abortion Attempt
Free Anna Yocca Now!
Anna Yocca has spent a year in jail because she attempted a self-induced abortion. A low-paid Amazon warehouse worker living in Rutherford County, Tennessee—where abortion, though nominally legal up to 16 weeks, is unavailable—Anna, who was 24 weeks pregnant, used a coat hanger. Having found her bleeding in the bathtub, her boyfriend took her to the hospital, where doctors compelled her to give birth. She delivered through cesarean section a premature one-and-a-half pound baby boy with permanent lung and eye damage.
Forced into a desperate situation and then medically tortured, she was further tortured by the vindictive legal system, which put the child in the custody of the state and arrested her on charges of first-degree attempted murder. Last spring, these charges were downgraded to aggravated assault. But on November 12, Yocca was charged with three new felonies: aggravated assault with a weapon, attempted procurement of a miscarriage and attempted abortion. She has pleaded not guilty, but remains behind bars on an outrageous $200,000 bond. Drop all charges! Free Anna Yocca!
During his election campaign, Donald Trump remarked that women who have abortions should be punished. Facing an outcry from both Republican and Democratic politicians, he was quickly forced to disavow the statement. But in Tennessee, Trump’s rant is already reality.
Anna Yocca, 31 years old when she sought to terminate her pregnancy, lives in a state where 96 percent of counties have no abortion clinics. This is part of a growing pattern making it all but impossible for working-class, black and Latina women to have access to abortion. Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming each have only one abortion clinic remaining.
The prosecution of Anna Yocca on felony charges is a dangerous precedent for new attacks on abortion rights, which have been rolled back for decades. According to the Guttmacher Institute, since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, states have enacted more than 1,000 restrictions on abortion. More than a quarter of these state laws were passed in just five years—while Barack Obama was in the White House. The most common restrictions include bans on late-term abortion, restrictions on medical abortion, enforced waiting periods, parental notification and consent regulations and mandatory counseling (where medical personnel are forced to provide inaccurate information to dissuade women from seeking abortions).
In recent years, anti-abortion bigots have pursued a campaign of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose expensive, medically unnecessary regulations on clinics to force them to shut down (see “Fight for Free Abortion on Demand!” WV No. 1086, 25 March). Women who attempt to end their pregnancies themselves could be punished under any of 40 different laws, including those against child abuse, drug possession, or practicing medicine without a license. In Ohio, the state legislature recently passed a “heartbeat” bill that would ban abortions from as early as six weeks. If a doctor terminates a pregnancy without listening for a heartbeat or when a heartbeat is audible, the physician could lose their license and face up to a year in prison.
In a motion to dismiss Anna Yocca’s case, her attorney argued that bringing her to trial “makes every pregnant woman vulnerable to arrest and prosecution if she is perceived to have caused or even risked harm to a human embryo or fetus.” Indeed, and one could also note a prior victim of such an attack, Purvi Patel, sentenced in 2015 to 20 years in prison in Indiana for having had a miscarriage. Though the conviction was overturned last July, Patel was the first woman in the U.S. sentenced for “feticide.” At least 38 states now have “fetal homicide” laws to punish women for terminating a pregnancy. Central to the ideology behind anti-abortion and “fetal protection” laws is the religious dogma that a fetus has a God-given “soul.” In imposing this fiction on everyone, the anti-abortion bigots seek to reduce women to mere baby-making machines.
Trump’s victory, unexpected by many, has many abortion-rights activists understandably scared. Vice President-elect Mike Pence threatens that the legal right to abortion will be “consigned to the ash heap of history,” while Trump vows to appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. But it was not the political composition of the 1973 court—the majority of whom were Republican appointees—that led to the legalization of abortion in the historic Roe v. Wade decision. The Roe decision was a concession to explosive mass struggle. The women’s liberation movement arose as masses of radicalized youth took to the streets to fight for black rights and against the dirty imperialist war in Vietnam.
It was a sign of the times that in April 1969, hundreds of thousands of women marched in Washington, D.C., demanding that abortion be legalized. Many wore coat hangers around their necks, symbolizing what women face when abortion is illegal. But in the years after the Roe decision, abortion rights were whittled down by relentless attacks, illustrating that democratic rights under capitalism are always partial and reversible. It is the stock in trade of Republican politicians to attack abortion. But it was the Democratic Party that paved the way for them. The anti-abortion crusade found a champion with “born again” Democratic president Jimmy Carter, who in 1977 sneered, “There are many things in life that are not fair” as he signed into law the Hyde Amendment eliminating abortion coverage from Medicaid.
Understanding that most Americans favor some form of abortion rights, the Democrats say just enough in support of “choice,” while they echo the “family values” rhetoric of the Republicans, aiming to win over a section of their religious constituency. Hillary Clinton’s well-known statement that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” was part of the Democratic Party’s platform beginning in the early 1990s.
Some 90 percent of abortions are first-trimester procedures that are medically safe, simple and done in a doctor’s office. Yet abortion remains an explosive political issue because it touches on the equality of women. It is seen as challenging the institution of the family and the idea that motherhood is a woman’s destiny.
The Roe v. Wade decision was a democratic gain, but access to that gain was always more difficult for poor and working women. We live in a class-divided society where those with money will always have access to the procedure while an increasing number of women are forced to resort to do-it-yourself abortions, including the coat hanger. Today almost half of women who obtain abortions live below the federal poverty line. The Democrats, no less than the Republicans, serve and protect the capitalist social system, which consigns millions of women and children to lives of poverty. As socialists who fight for workers revolution to bring down the whole oppressive system, we call for free abortion on demand. Abortion and contraception should be available at no cost as part of universal, quality health care that is free at the point of service.
In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat, several prominent feminists linked to Clinton and the Obama administration are calling for a January 21 march in Washington, D.C., the day after Trump’s inauguration. Tellingly, the call for the march goes out of its way to disappear any mention or hint of abortion rights. Reliance on “pro-choice” Democrats has been the hallmark of the bourgeois feminists, undermining the fight for abortion rights.
What is urgently needed is a militant struggle, independent of the Democrats and bolstered by the power of labor, to defend and extend women’s rights—including the right to abortion. As we wrote in our article after the elections, “We Need a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party! Democrats Paved the Way for Trump” (WV No. 1100, 18 November):
“The election made it clear that there is plenty of anger against the Washington elites, but it is not expressed along class lines. It is high time that some genuine class hatred be mobilized against the politicians of the Republicans and Democrats, whatever their race or sex, and the capitalist rulers they serve. The power to resist the depredations of capitalism lies in the hands of the men and women—black, white and immigrant—whose labor keeps the wheels of production turning and produces the capitalists’ wealth.”
The emancipation of women requires a workers revolution that will smash all forms of social oppression, lay the material basis to free women from age-old family servitude and reorganize society in the interests of all. Key to this perspective is the forging of a revolutionary, multiracial workers party that will lead the fight for women’s liberation through socialist revolution.