Workers Vanguard No. 866
17 March 2006
Abortion Outlawed in South Dakota
For Free Abortion on Demand!
For Women's Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
Womens fundamental right to abortion is under renewed assault. Its been relentlessly eroded for over 30 years, ever since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, which overturned state anti-abortion laws. In South Dakota on March 6, Republican governor Michael Rounds signed the most sweeping anti-abortion law in the nation, banning all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the woman, and mandating five-year prison sentences for doctors who perform abortions. This sets up a head-on collision with the legal right to abortion, as the law will be challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Fifteen other states already have anti-abortion trigger laws ready to go into effect should Roe be overturned. The Supreme Court plans to hear legal challenges this fall to the grossly misnamed partial birth abortion ban passed by Congress, which is being used as a wedge to roll back all abortion rights. And Bush has recently appointed two new Supreme Court justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who are thoroughgoing racist reactionaries on all social fronts (see Racial Oppression and the Supreme Court Hearings, WV No. 864, 17 February).
Ominous as this all is, for many women in America the ability to have an abortion has already been placed effectively out of reach. In South Dakota, there is only one abortion clinic. Increasingly women need to travel great distances, including out of state, to obtain abortions. A recent New York Times (12 March) op-ed article stated, Wed do better to view South Dakotas action not as transformative...but as an effort to formalize what for many women already exists in practice. The article cited some grim statistics, including: In Mississippi, where the number of places that offer abortion services has shrunk from six to one, 60 percent of women traveled to neighboring states to terminate their pregnancies in 2000, up from 33 percent 12 years earlier.
As revolutionary communists, we defend abortion rights and every gain thats been won for women, no matter how partial. What is urgently needed is to fight to defend and extend womens rights, including the right to abortion. We fight for free abortion and contraception on demand, without qualification, linked to a program of free, quality health care for all. These are vital necessities for women and for working people as a whole, along with paid maternity leave and free 24-hour childcare facilities at work and in the community. We look to the power of the working class, not its mortal enemies in the capitalist state, as the motor force for social progress. Every real gain won by working people and the oppressed is, and will be, the result of hard class and social struggle, not appeals to bourgeois politicians and the courts.
It is outrageous that the capitalist state—from state legislatures up to whatever nine people are appointed for life to the Supreme Court, an inherently reactionary institution—should have the life-and-death power to interfere in peoples most intimate, private decisions. We say, government out of the bedrooms! Abolish all laws against crimes without victims such as laws against prostitution, homosexuality and age of consent laws that target teens! We oppose reactionary parental notification laws and all restrictions on access to contraception, including Plan B (the morning after pill) and the RU 486 abortion pill. Teenagers (like other humans) will have consensual sex, whether the anti-sex police like it or not, and accidents will happen—so its a very good thing that abortion is actually a simple and safe medical procedure.
Democratic Party politicians whine that abortion is a sad, even tragic choice, as Democratic senator Hillary Clinton recently said. In fact, abortion is often more a necessity than a choice. Despite all the restrictions, in 2002 alone, some 1.29 million abortions were carried out in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute. At current rates, the Institutes Web site reports, about one in three American women will have had an abortion by the time she reaches age 45. It further reports that half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and that half of those end in abortion. Given all the fundamentalist religious hysteria against abortion, its significant too that 78 percent of women having abortions report a religious affiliation, according to Guttmacher.
Nineteenth-century utopian socialist Charles Fourier wrote that the level of any civilization could be determined by the degree of social progress for its women. The cruelty of American civilization can be measured by the fact that women in prison today are literally shackled to their beds as they give birth, and then their babies are ripped away from them. As for workers, as far as the ruling class is concerned, they might as well drop dead once theyre no longer productive. Wall Street and Washington are united in trying to smash whatever limited health care and pension plans workers still have left today. In this racist society, blacks are hit hardest, as always—the racist contempt and lethal incompetence by all levels of government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina made that clear for all to see.
In this period of social reaction, for the capitalists and their political frontmen free health care and free abortion on demand are anathema, only a breath away from godless communism and who knows what wild free love scenarios. The Bush administration is so bizarrely reactionary that it views science with deep distrust. A truly frightening article, Political Science, in the New Yorker (13 March) reports that the Bush regime opposes letting girls be inoculated with the new papillomavirus vaccine that protects against cervical cancer, noting: The Bush Administration has been relentless in its opposition to any drug, vaccine, or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex. From their hostility to science to their criminal response to the raging worldwide AIDS pandemic, one thing is clear: to these demented religious fanatics, death is preferable to sex.
The onslaught against abortion rights is the spearhead for generalized social reaction. The anti-sex witchhunt in this current period of U.S. history began in the late 1970s and achieved full flower with AIDS hysteria and the child sex abuse witchhunts. Overall it served the purpose of bolstering the legitimacy of capitalist law and of fomenting anxiety and bigotry in the service of the social regimentation of the population behind the aims of U.S. imperialism at home and abroad.
Break with the Democrats!
The capitalist Democratic Party is seen as at least standing for the legal right to abortion, even though Democrats today pander to the anti-woman, anti-sex Christian fundamentalist bigots who thunder about sin and guilt, womans place as subordinate to her husband, and her role as a vessel to produce babies whether she wants to or not. The Democrats pro-choice position is paper-thin, catering to middle-class and bourgeois women—in practice they have repeatedly slashed access to abortion for working women and the poor. Hillary Clinton today expresses her respect for those opposing abortion rights, as do Howard Dean and other leading Democrats. In this Novembers elections, the Democrats senatorial candidate in Pennsylvania against the loathsome all-sided reactionary Rick Santorum is Bob Casey Jr., who opposes abortion rights entirely.
The first major post-Roe attack on abortion rights took place under born-again Democrat Jimmy Carter, who in 1977 sneered, There are many things in life that are not fair, as he signed into law the Hyde Amendment that eliminated abortion coverage from the Medicaid health plans of 23 million poor women. The Democratic administration of Bill Clinton carried out a relentless campaign against poor and black women that went virtually unopposed by feminists as long as abortion remained formally legal. In 1996, as part of his campaign to end welfare as we know it, Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which slashed benefits for women and children and was a recipe for starvation and death for the most vulnerable members of society.
During Clintons eight years in office, safe access to abortion was effectively gutted across much of the country, as the number of abortion providers plummeted 14 percent between 1992 and 1996, and a huge number of laws chipping away abortion rights, including parental consent regulations targeting teenagers, were passed. Some 87 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion clinics, which are now outnumbered by crisis pregnancy centers—fake clinics set up by anti-abortion groups whose purpose is to subject pregnant women to anti-abortion propaganda and otherwise pressure them to carry the fetus to term.
Ruling Class Reaction, Religion and the Family
The oppression of women is rooted in the institution of the family, which arose with the advent of private property as the mechanism for passing property from one generation to the next—the monogamous wife is supposed to ensure the paternity of the heirs. The family serves in general as the social mechanism for rearing the next generation, and under capitalism, where the masses of youth are slated for wage slavery or service as cannon fodder in the armed forces, it seeks to instill obedience to authority. The institutions of organized religion and the family enforce social conservatism and conformity to the family values ideal. The institution of the family reinforces, as Friedrich Engels put it, the supremacy of the man over the woman, and the individual family as the economic unit of society (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884).
The private property system, upheld by the state, and the family are the most basic and deeply intertwined aspects of class society. They cannot be reformed away. To succeed in winning freedom for women requires a workers socialist revolution to overturn capitalist property relations. While we fight to defend every gain wrested through hard struggle from this ruling class, the inescapable conclusion must be that the entire capitalist system must go, and a workers state created, which will rest on a collectivized and planned economy where production is for human need, not profit.
As Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto (1848): On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain.... The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. A workers government will be able to begin to provide social alternatives—in caring for children, the sick, the elderly, for housework, etc.—to the oppressive family structure. Religion, too, which enforces mindless subordination to higher authority, instilling so much guilt and misery, will begin to wither as its state props are kicked away. In a world of plenty, much of the despair and ignorance which drives people to seek solace in religion will be gone.
The young Soviet workers state, created by the 1917 Russian Revolution led by the Bolshevik Party, acted on this understanding of womens oppression and did more to liberate women than any other society in history. While inheriting a largely peasant society devastated by the First World War and a bloody civil war, the Bolsheviks made heroic efforts to replace the family with social alternatives. They were the first government in the world to overturn criminal penalties for abortion in 1920 (health concerns prevented earlier legalization in those days before antibiotics).
As we pointed out in The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women (Spartacist [English-language edition], No. 59, Spring 2006):
Today, millions of women even in the advanced capitalist democracies endure nasty and brutish lives of misery and drudgery.... But even 15 years ago women in the Soviet Union enjoyed many advantages, such as state-supported childcare institutions, full abortion rights, access to a wide range of trades and professions, and a large degree of economic equality with their male co-workers—in short, a state in some ways far in advance of capitalist societies today.
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution made these gains possible.
The counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR in 1991-92, which had remained a workers state despite degeneration under the Stalinist bureaucracy, was a deep blow to the world working class, not least women in the former USSR, and conditions the current period of reaction.
What is essential is a fight to forge a multiracial workers party to lead the working class in a socialist revolution that sweeps away this system of capitalist exploitation and racial and sexual oppression. For new October Revolutions!
USA: Salami Tactics and Liberal Baloney
The legal right to abortion was won only as a result of the massive social struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, the civil rights movement and the radicalization of the Vietnam War years. This short but intense period of upheaval shook loose some gains for black people and women—from the end of Jim Crow segregation in the South to the legalization of abortion—from the bourgeoisie, which feared the unraveling of its control. As we wrote not long after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, As the success of recent restrictive legislation on abortion makes clear, reforms are always reversible under capitalism. Only in a genuinely socialist society can gains for women be consolidated, maintained and extended (Anti-Abortion Laws: Weapon of Church and State, Women and Revolution No. 9, Summer 1975).
The radicalization, which had the possibility of reaching into the working class and breaking in the direction of revolutionary socialist consciousness, was diverted back into bourgeois politics with the help of reformist leftists, who sought to keep struggles limited to what is acceptable within the bounds of the racist capitalist system. This treacherous and losing strategy, pursued for decades by groups like the International Socialist Organization (ISO), has kept working people, blacks and the oppressed tied to Democratic Party lesser evilism. The result is that less is exactly what people get.
The ISOs Sharon Smith complains today that without pressure from feminists to defend the right to abortion, the Democratic Party steadily retreated on choice (Women and Socialism [Haymarket Books, 2005]). In fact, the goal of bourgeois feminism, which is hostile to working-class interests, has been at best to gain equality for middle-class women within capitalism. At the height of the battle in the early 1990s to defend abortion clinics against anti-abortion terror—exemplified by the 25,000 screaming anti-woman fanatics who blockaded clinics in Wichita, Kansas, in 1991—we communists fought to mobilize women and their allies, backed up by the organized labor movement, to keep the clinics open. In contrast, throughout the 1990s bourgeois feminist organizations such as NOW demobilized protest by preaching reliance on the pro-choice Clinton administration.
The Democrats are committed just as much as the Republicans to the preservation of the capitalist system, to the exploitation of the working class for profit, to the institution of the family, and to furthering U.S. imperialist interests abroad—they just differ with the Republicans on tactics. We oppose the Democrats on principle because they are a capitalist party. In contrast, the ISO opposes the current policies of the Democrats, seeking to be a left pressure group on them—sometimes through grassroots pressure, sometimes via the capitalist Green Party, sometimes directly. This was clear during the recent liberal hue and cry over Bushs Supreme Court appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito. The ISOs would-be candidate for U.S. Senate on the Green Party ticket, Todd Chretien of California, openly appealed to Democratic Party senator Dianne Feinstein on his Web site (todd4senate.org): There is only one way to stop Alito and protect womens rights: Sen. Feinstein must draw a line in the sand and publicly call for an open-ended filibuster that makes it plain to the Republican leadership that she will not relent until they withdraw Alitos name. So the only way to protect womens rights is the Democrats? This is no slip, but the ISOs real program (see article, page 7).
To be sure, Alito and Roberts are sinister reactionaries who want to overturn the legal right to abortion, reflecting the way the political winds are blowing these days. Feinstein herself, an ardent war on terror and Homeland Security supporter, said regarding Alito: This is a man I might disagree with. That doesnt mean he shouldnt be on the court. Samuel Alito thinks of women as perpetual minors: in the 1991 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, Alito dissented from the Third Circuit courts decision (later upheld by the Supreme Court) that it was unconstitutional to require a husbands consent for a womans abortion, citing parental notification rulings!
Alito helped devise the salami tactics—that is, slicing away bit by bit at abortion rights, as opposed to a frontal assault on Roe—that characterized anti-abortion tactics on the legal front in the 1980s and 1990s. Doctors and clinic workers were bombed, maimed and murdered, attacked by Operation Rescue and the KKK and other fascists, forcing the closing of many clinics nationwide. When abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered in 1998 in Buffalo, we wrote, While mainstream capitalist politicians hypocritically decry the murder of Dr. Slepian, it is the Congressional onslaught on abortion rights—embraced by Democrats as well as Republicans—which legitimizes and encourages the terrorist killers (Anti-Abortion Bigots Trail of Murder, WV No. 700, 6 November 1998).
The continuing battle for womens right to abortion in America shows that the capitalist class, notably in the most advanced societies, has long outlived its progressive role and is a fetter on further human progress. The inherent contradiction within the bourgeois-democratic approach to womens oppression is that the outer limit of bourgeois democracy for women ends at the threshold of the family institution.
Today it falls to the proletariat, which owns nothing but its labor power, to assume the role of liberator of humanity, freeing women and all the oppressed from the many chains of capitalist society. It is the job of the revolutionary vanguard party, which we seek to build, to bring to the working class the understanding that they must fight for all the oppressed in their battle to free themselves from wage slavery. The entry of women into the working class opened the way to their liberation: their position at the point of production gives them social power, along with the entire working class, to overturn the capitalist system. For womens liberation through socialist revolution!