Workers Vanguard No. 1052
19 September 2014
Anti-Woman Crusade Marches On
For Free Abortion Available to All!
In the first half of this year, state governments passed 21 restrictions on women’s right to abortion, adding to the more than 200 such restrictions imposed between 2011 and 2013, more than in the entire previous decade. Among them are waiting periods (including a just-instituted 72-hour wait in Missouri), parental consent requirements, bans on consultations with doctors over the phone and limits on coverage of abortion in health insurance plans. With Republican state legislators spearheading the attacks on abortion, bourgeois feminists are once again trying to corral supporters of abortion rights into voting for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. But in office, the Democrats themselves imbibe “family values” moralism and have helped set the stage for the reactionary onslaught against women’s rights.
The anti-abortion forces have shifted tactics of late, pushing laws known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) that aim to erect insurmountable barriers to keeping abortion clinics open. These tactics have been so successful that the anti-abortion terrorists of Operation Rescue brag that a record 87 surgical abortion clinics closed in 2013, 12 percent of the national total. Some of these laws force clinics to expand procedure rooms, widen hallways to match ambulatory surgical centers and institute other medically useless but hugely expensive building upgrades. Planned Parenthood had to spend over $750,000 to upgrade their clinics in Pennsylvania to comply with one such law. For smaller providers, such costs are prohibitive and many are forced to shut down.
Other laws, now on the books in 20 states, compel abortion providers to have an official relationship with a local hospital. For many clinics this is impossible; religious-run hospitals refuse to deal with them and for-profit hospitals see no money to be made off them. In Ohio, after a new anti-abortion law went into effect last year, six of the state’s 14 abortion clinics closed, in multiple cases because they were unable to obtain transfer agreements with local hospitals. The remaining clinics are in limbo since the state has not renewed their expired licenses.
In late July, a federal appeals court blocked a Mississippi law that would have closed the state’s last abortion clinic as its doctors were unable to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. The ruling wasn’t that the law per se was too restrictive, but only that having no in-state abortion clinics would place an undue burden on other states to meet Mississippi women’s right to abortion under Roe v. Wade. The rights supposedly enshrined in Roe v. Wade are thus reduced to the right to have one abortion clinic in an entire state.
The Democrats and bourgeois feminists seek to limit the struggle for abortion rights to a sanitized electoral movement that does not go beyond defense of Roe v. Wade. They represent the concerns of middle-class and bourgeois women, who can afford to pay and don’t want their “right to choose” infringed. But for poor and working-class women, “choice” doesn’t amount to much if you don’t have the money for the procedure, insurance won’t cover it and you have to travel a long distance because the local clinic has been shut down. And without access to abortion, an unexpected pregnancy can be devastating, with all the extra costs of raising a child and the added challenges to holding down a job.
In fact, Roe v. Wade falls far short of granting a blanket right to abortion. The ruling allows states to regulate abortions in the interests of women’s health or those of the fetus at later stages of pregnancy. The bible-thumpers have driven a horse and cart through these loopholes, using the pretext of protecting women’s health to close down clinic after clinic.
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.
Texas, Wendy Davis and the Democrats
After an omnibus anti-abortion law known as HB2—a veritable checklist of TRAP restrictions and more—was passed in Texas last summer, the number of the state’s abortion clinics was halved to around 20. A requirement that abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers was due to go into effect on September 1, which would have further reduced the number to seven. While that section of the law was struck down by a federal judge on August 29, the state is appealing the ruling. The judge also ruled that two shuttered clinics be allowed to reopen because the closures had left women in vast areas of South and West Texas unable to access abortion services.
In the legislative debate over HB2 last year, Democratic state senator Wendy Davis was catapulted into the national limelight by attempting to block the bill with an 11‑hour filibuster. She has now parlayed that prominence into a campaign for Texas governor. On her campaign website, the widely touted “abortion-rights champion” Davis presents the issue simply as “Fighting Against Closure of Women’s Health Centers,” taking pains not to mention the “A” word to avoid offense. Since her filibuster, Davis has made it clear that she supports state bans on late-term abortions with limited exceptions. Such bans are the thin edge of the wedge in the wholesale assault on abortion rights.
With the Republican zealots around, it does not take much for the Democrats to pose as allies of women. But, even though the Republicans may forthrightly prefer to keep women “barefoot and pregnant,” the Democratic Party—the other party of U.S. capitalist rule—also panders to religious reaction. A case in point was when President Barack Obama attempted to reverse the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter access to “Plan B” contraception for teens. In 2010, Obama signed an executive order to ensure that federal funds from his signature health care legislation “are not used for abortion services.” By that law, every state insurance exchange must offer a plan that excludes abortion. Women who want abortion coverage have to pay a surcharge.
While the Democrats often claim that their hands are tied by Republican control of one or another branch of government, that’s just an excuse to cover for their complicity in the rollback of abortion rights. For example, the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding for abortions has been renewed every year since the time of the Democratic Carter administration regardless of which party controlled Congress or the White House. By now it should be obvious to all but the willfully blind that reliance on the Democrats is no way to defend abortion rights.
Feminist Redbaiting Alive and Well
At the end of July, the Stop Patriarchy group launched an “Abortion Rights Freedom Ride” through Texas, calling for “abortion on demand and without apology.” The “freedom ride” consisted of a series of “people’s hearings” and protests mainly directed at Republican politicians. Stop Patriarchy, which the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) initiated, was met with a campaign of vicious redbaiting by liberals and feminists.
The group Texans For Reproductive Justice was set up in opposition to Stop Patriarchy, stating: “We believe that Stop Patriarchy’s hyperbolic and confrontational style puts the most vulnerable Texans in danger, and confuses and ostracizes those who would be our allies.” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said: “You don’t have just one protest and affect change; you’re not going to have a ‘revolution’ over abortion rights. You have to change the culture and reduce stigma.” Clearly, the bourgeois feminists were irked that Stop Patriarchy’s rhetoric and tactics might antagonize the good people of Texas and maybe even cost Wendy Davis and other of their “allies” votes in November.
The feminists have preached the same impotent reliance on the Democrats and “softly, softly” incremental change for decades. In the early 1990s, when Operation Rescue was blockading abortion clinics, abortion-rights activists repeatedly mobilized in mass clinic defense. Those militant actions were consciously demobilized by NOW and NARAL, which actively worked with the cops to exclude leftists and to enforce “non-violence” pledges for clinic defenders. After 12 years of Reagan/Bush reaction, the bourgeois feminists saw the Democratic Clinton administration as their chance to gain some clout and did not want any reds rocking the boat.
One scheme was to pressure the Democrats to implement so-called buffer-zone laws to keep the Operation Rescue terrorists away from the clinics. The Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts variant of such laws in June. The ruling was welcomed by anti-abortion bigots, who see it as a godsend that opens the door to heightened harassment of patients and clinic workers. A month later, the state’s governor signed a new buffer-zone law taking account of the Court’s objections. We have always opposed such laws because they substitute reliance on the capitalist state for militant clinic defense. As we warned, “such laws will be used to bust strikes and quash political protests by leftists, workers and minorities” (WV No. 580, 16 July 1993) and, in fact, from the start they were used to arrest clinic defenders along with anti-abortion bigots.
The American feminist establishment is the voice of bourgeois and well-off petty-bourgeois women whose only quarrel with capitalist society is that it denies them full access to the boys’ club of ruling-class power. As noted in a recent article on prominent German socialist Clara Zetkin in our theoretical journal Spartacist (No. 64, Summer 2014): “Feminists seek to change society, and thus the position of women, by changing social relations within the existing capitalist society. We understand that to liberate the exploited and oppressed, you have to change the class relationships to the means of production, that is, abolish private property altogether.” In essence, that is the difference between reform and revolution.
For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
Several of the Stop Patriarchy activists were arrested at the protests, and we demand that any charges pending be dropped. But for all their “in your face” tactics and “revolutionary” phrasemongering, the Maoists of the RCP have no program at all for liberating women. The freedom ride kicked off with a protest at the Republican Party office in Houston and ended with a series of actions outside Republican governor Rick Perry’s mansion. The aim of this activity, according to a Stop Patriarchy statement published in the Austin Statesman (4 August) that disappears the Democrats, was “to change hearts and enlighten minds.” Such a “fight the right” focus in the thick of election season amounts to backhanded support to the other party of capitalist exploitation and oppression.
The oppression of women is rooted in the institution of the family, a vehicle for the inheritance of private property for the ruling class and the means of reproduction of labor to be exploited. Along with religion, the nuclear family also plays a key role in helping to regiment the population and instill social conservatism. The liberation of women can only be realized with the overthrow of the capitalist order, which would lay the basis for replacing the stultifying nuclear family through socialization of housework and childcare in collective institutions. The one force, based on its role in production, that has the numbers, social power and class interest to carry out this revolutionary transformation of society is the working class.
Virulently hostile to a revolutionary proletarian perspective, the opportunistic RCP seeks out other class forces to hitch its wagon to. In recent years, the RCP and Stop Patriarchy have campaigned to “End Pornography,” aping the anti-sex feminists who argue that pornographic images cause rape, murder and other violent crimes against women. And the arbiter of what constitutes porn is none other than the RCP’s cult leader Bob Avakian, who also has creepily precise ideas about what sexual practices and even what underwear (no thongs!) are acceptable. Sex should be a purely private matter, subject only to the mutual consent of the participants. Neither the state, the churches nor Chairman Bob should have any say over what people look at or do in the bedroom.
The RCP’s reactionary anti-porn campaign buys into the very bourgeois “family values” that the anti-abortionists revel in. Those values have served as a battering ram for generalized social and political reaction. The war on abortion rights is part of the bipartisan assault on the rights and living conditions of working people—from union-busting and mass layoffs to skyrocketing medical costs and the shredding of what is left of the social safety net.
Nonetheless, many working people are opposed to abortion, one example of the backward consciousness inculcated by the capitalist rulers through the church pulpits, bourgeois media and education system. What is needed is a revolutionary party to make the working class conscious of the need to fight independently of the class enemy for its own interests as well as those of women and all the oppressed, not least for free, quality health care for all, including abortion on demand, and 24-hour childcare. Capitalism is unable to satisfy even the most basic needs of the working masses and must be swept into the dustbin of history.