Workers Vanguard No. 1080
11 December 2015
Anti-Abortion Terror in Colorado
Defend Planned Parenthood!
For Free Abortion on Demand!
One day after Thanksgiving, gunman Robert Lewis Dear opened fire at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, killing three and injuring nine others. Eleven people have now been murdered by anti-abortion fanatics since 1993. The killer’s rant “no more baby parts” belied the disingenuous claims by the media and politicians that the motives of the attack were unknown. The triggerman may be a lone evangelical recluse and wife beater, yet his script was written by the preachers from the pulpits and the circus of Republican presidential candidates leading the crusade against women’s right to abortion. This summer’s video sting operation by the deceitfully named Center for Medical Progress launched the lying campaign that Planned Parenthood’s legal and medically vital practice of making available fetal tissue for life-saving research was akin to “harvesting” human brains for profit. With anti-abortion terrorists further emboldened, in the last few months Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington and California have been attacked by arsonists while others received bomb threats.
Left in the shadows following the slaughter in Colorado is the daily violence against abortion providers by bigoted fanatics. This reality is powerfully documented in the recent book Living in the Crosshairs—The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism (2015) by lawyers David Cohen and Krysten Connon:
“Because of their work, abortion providers have been murdered, shot, kidnapped, assaulted, stalked, and subjected to death threats. Their clinics have been bombed, attacked with noxious chemicals, invaded, vandalized, burglarized, and set ablaze. Individual abortion providers have been picketed at home and have received harassing mail and phone calls. Their family members have been followed where they work, their children have been protested at school, and their neighbors’ privacy has been invaded.”
The ongoing legislative assault on abortion rights serves to legitimize such tactics of terror and intimidation. For decades, Democrats, liberals and feminists have offered up one concession after another to the right wing, resulting in the chipping away of access to abortion. In turn, anti-woman bigots have launched deeper legislative offensives aiming to erect insurmountable barriers to abortion access, such as mandatory waiting periods and parental consent, and extreme TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. While remaining nominally legal, the right to abortion has been effectively gutted: 89 percent of counties in the U.S. have no abortion provider, and only 14 percent of obstetrician-gynecologists perform the procedure.
Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of reproductive health care in the country. Among the plethora of services (including education) it provides, abortions account for only 3 percent. Texas and a handful of other states, including Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana, have moved to end Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. Those most hurt by the offensive to defund the organization are the poor, minority and working-class women, as well as young teenagers, who are in desperate need of affordable health care and who make up the bulk of Planned Parenthood’s patients. While most news outlets centered their condolences on the police officer killed during the stand-off, the real face of the victims of the witchhunt against Planned Parenthood is shown by the fact that the other two killed were a black man and a Hawaiian woman, who were accompanying friends to the facility.
There is a crucial need to defend Planned Parenthood and the few besieged abortion facilities remaining. In the 1990s, liberal and left-wing activists mobilized in mass clinic defense actions at the height of Operation Rescue’s nationwide anti-abortion terror campaign. The Spartacist League and its supporters participated and noted that if such mobilizations were bolstered by the power of labor, they would make a real show of strength in support of women’s rights. We pointed out that the only thing capable of stopping “god-fearing” reactionaries from spreading their murderous attacks against poor and working women was to put some real “fear of god” into them. Yet bourgeois feminist groups such as NOW and NARAL consciously demobilized clinic defense, diverting the struggle into pressuring the false friends in the Democratic Party to implement so-called buffer-zone laws to keep anti-abortion protesters at a distance from clinics. Such laws have not stopped the mobs besieging staff and patients. As we emphasized from the start, these laws are also used to arrest clinic defenders.
Abortion is a simple medical procedure, safer than childbirth. But because it provides women with some control over whether or not to have children, abortion is seen as a threat to the patriarchal family, which is the main source of women’s oppression and a key prop of capitalist class rule. The regulation of abortion and contraception—both of which open the possibility of women being able to have sex without having children—has historically been a powerful weapon in the hands of organized religion and the capitalist state to enforce conservatism and social conformity. Unrestricted access to both abortion and contraception, as part of quality health care for all that is free at the point of delivery, is a vital necessity for women and for working people as a whole. For free abortion on demand!
Democrats and Republicans: Enemies of Women
Loathing the right-wing bible-thumpers of the Republican Party is an act of sanity, but support to the Democrats is no way to defend abortion rights. The first major attack on abortion rights following the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling took place under the “born again” Christian and Democrat Jimmy Carter, who in 1977 signed into law the Hyde Amendment that eliminated abortion coverage from the Medicaid health plans of 23 million poor women. It has been renewed every year, regardless of which party controlled Congress or the White House. Cut from the same cloth, in 2010 Obama signed an executive order ensuring that federal funds from his signature Affordable Care Act are not used for abortion.
Back in 1992, the Clinton of the male persuasion won the presidency with support from women for his pro-Roe stance, and then proceeded to carry out a relentless campaign aimed particularly at poor and black women. During Bill Clinton’s eight years as president, welfare for mothers was axed, the number of abortion providers plummeted, and state after state passed laws restricting abortion rights. Current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, while defending Planned Parenthood in words, constantly panders to the religious right. She has stated that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare, and by rare I mean rare.” The Democrats’ “pro-choice” position is at best hollow, catering to middle-class and bourgeois women who have always had the means to get an abortion when they need to. Skilled in spouting family values moralism, the Democrats pander to fundamentalist reactionaries whose goal is to keep women “in their place,” i.e., subordinate to men as mere baby-making vessels.
Feminists keep pushing the repeat button when it comes to relying on bourgeois politicians and the federal government to supposedly protect women. Following the Colorado Springs attack, NARAL issued a petition demanding that the Department of Justice “investigate clinic violence as domestic terrorism.” It is of course crystalline hypocrisy that the U.S. rulers do not deem anti-abortion attacks terror because Christians, not Muslims, carry them out. But anything that strengthens the capitalist state’s “war on terror” will be another dagger aimed at the working class, the oppressed and immigrants, who are already in the crosshairs of the government, its cops and courts. Since the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, homegrown white supremacists and anti-government extremists have perpetrated more acts of terrorism on U.S. soil than Islamic jihadists. Nonetheless, those the state targets as “domestic terrorists” continue to be leftists, militant trade unionists, black radicals and Muslims.
President Obama’s main contribution to the abortion “debate” has been to seize on the Colorado Springs attack to push for more gun control. Gun control ensures that the beleaguered abortion providers are disarmed, effectively denying their right of self-defense in the face of anti-abortion terror. Meanwhile, the “army of god” zealots and crazies will still be able to get their hands on weapons. As Living in the Crosshairs quoted Dr. Warren Hern, a late-term abortionist based in Colorado: “Our adversaries are at war with us. They will stop at nothing, up to and including assassination.” Knowing that the fortified walls and security entrances of a clinic cannot guarantee immunity from a fanatic’s gun, many providers are accustomed to going to work armed and wearing bulletproof vests. All of them recall the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller at his church. For over 35 years, Tiller heroically provided abortions to women, including late in pregnancy, despite massive legal and extralegal harassment.
Innocent people are killed precisely because they are unarmed and defenseless in the face of reactionary killers incited by the bigotry and inequality which pervade every aspect of American society. Every day, abortion clinic workers, as well as patients and their volunteer escorts, have to run a gauntlet of anti-woman bigots on their own without assurance of protection by law enforcement. Living in the Crosshairs provides accounts from abortion providers in some areas whose complaints of harassment have been willfully ignored and from other providers who have witnessed collaboration between cops and anti-abortion protesters. Placing more restrictions or outright bans on gun ownership tramples on the population’s basic rights while allowing the capitalist state—with its police and military—to have a monopoly of violence and to further consolidate its repressive powers.
Racist, Anti-Woman Homegrown Terror
In this racist and anti-woman capitalist society, the onslaught against abortion is directly linked to generalized social reaction, particularly against black people. The legal right to abortion was won as a result of the massive social struggles of the 1960s and ’70s, the civil rights movement and the radicalization of the Vietnam War years. Following those upheavals, whole sections of the U.S. bourgeoisie sought to reverse the limited gains won by both women and black people. Since the early 1980s, this reactionary backlash has been spearheaded by the Christian fundamentalist right. While the current focus of this crusade is the war on women’s right to abortion, the right-wing evangelical movement, which became politically mainstream during the Carter administration, came to prominence through defending racial segregation at private Christian schools.
It is no coincidence that the states of the former Confederacy have some of the most restrictive abortion laws. A week before the Planned Parenthood carnage, a black abortion provider, Dr. Willie Parker, wrote a New York Times opinion piece (18 November) describing the immense difficulty women have in obtaining abortions in the South, where they often travel hundreds of miles for an appointment. Dr. Parker is among the shrinking number of doctors willing to perform abortions in the poorest state of the country, Mississippi, where only one clinic remains. His courageous commitment to women’s rights is all the more striking because it goes against the black church, which promotes social backwardness around issues of sex, especially abortion.
Dr. Parker noted: “A majority of pregnancies in the South are unintended. More than a quarter end in abortion.... In some areas of Mississippi, the rate of death for black pregnant women mirrors that of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.” Impoverished and desperate conditions will continue to force poor, black and immigrant women into squalid back-alley abortions. A 2013 law restricting abortions in Texas has forced the closure of around half of the 40 clinics in the state. Since then, hundreds of thousands of women there have tried to self-induce abortions, using potentially unsafe methods without medical supervision.
The whittling away of abortion rights exemplifies the fact that reforms benefiting the working class and the oppressed can easily be reversed under capitalism. Abortion must be defended, but the right to abortion does not mean equality for women in the broader sense. Contrary to the reformist left and the feminists, we revolutionary Marxists understand that women’s liberation cannot be achieved by relying on the ruling class, its political parties or its state: it requires a revolutionary transformation of society through a workers revolution, which will sweep away the system of capitalist exploitation to which black oppression and women’s subordination is integral. Only after capitalism is overturned can we lay the basis to build a society where women will be able to have children (or not) with full social support including free quality childcare and medical care including contraception and abortion.