Workers Vanguard No. 1086
25 March 2016
No Reliance on Democrats, Supreme Court
Fight for Free Abortion on Demand!
On March 2, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the most critical abortion case in decades. Abortion providers in Texas, represented by Whole Woman’s Health, challenged the omnibus anti-abortion law known as HB2. Since 2013, the Texas law’s numerous roadblocks to obtaining a safe and timely abortion have forced the closure of at least 22 of 41 clinics. Draconian provisions mandate clinics to meet the costly and unnecessary standards of hospital-level surgery centers and require doctors to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals. If the provisions are upheld, the number of clinics in Texas will be reduced to fewer than ten, making abortion even more inaccessible for hundreds of thousands of poor, rural, black and Latina women. What is at stake is the fate of abortion services in states across the country. In Louisiana, a similar admitting privileges law—temporarily blocked—threatens to shut down all but one clinic.
Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide, a variety of reactionary forces, from the pulpit, the legislatures and the courtrooms, have relentlessly chipped away at it. The legal basis for the current assault on women’s rights was laid by the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which upheld Roe but gave states the green light to impose restrictions on abortion. Anti-woman bigots have since pushed to curtail the definition of an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion. They have imposed ever-greater hurdles—from mandatory waiting periods to parental consent requirements and bans on late-term abortions. The latest round of legislation, called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws, has the intended effect of forcing women back to the pre-Roe days of coat hangers and back-alley butchery. Since 2010, over 280 state restrictions on abortion have been imposed, nearly as many as during the entire 15-year period prior to that. In the last five years, at least 162 abortion providers have closed or stopped performing abortions, due mostly to cost-prohibitive codes and insurmountable doctor regulations—not to mention violence and terror at the hands of anti-abortion zealots.
The claim that TRAP laws serve to “protect” and “improve” women’s health is as ludicrous as it is sinister. Abortion is an extremely safe and effective procedure with fewer complications than a colonoscopy. Most, especially medication abortions, can be administered in any setting under medical supervision. A legal brief submitted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association declared “there is no medically sound reason” for HB2’s provisions. The risks associated with pregnancy, including childbirth itself, are far greater than those of abortion.
The war on abortion rights is driven by the deep-seated anti-woman bigotry that pervades this class-divided society. Abortion is a politically explosive issue because it poses the question of women’s equality, providing women with some control over whether or not to have children. For this reason, it is seen as a threat to the institution of the family, which is a key prop of the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. Along with organized religion, the family instills rigid sexual stereotypes and conservative morality that promotes fear, guilt and obedience to authority. Such ideological tools allow the rulers to socially regiment the population, and thus better contain any struggle against their system.
While wealthy women always find a way to get safe abortions, for the masses of working-class and poor women—who lack affordable health care, access to contraception and the means to adequately feed, house and educate their children—abortion is simultaneously a vital necessity and increasingly out of reach. Of the roughly one million abortions obtained each year in the U.S., women living below the federal poverty line account for around 40 percent and black and Latina women account for over half. Marcela Howell, the director of the black reproductive rights organization In Our Own Voice, recently noted that black women are disproportionately impacted by the legacy of abortion restrictions like the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to cover the procedure and was signed into law by Democratic president Jimmy Carter in 1977. She also warned of the national implications if the Supreme Court upholds HB2: “We are looking at more than 12 million Black women if you look at the other states where these laws also exist.”
In order for safe and legal abortion to become available to all women, we call for free abortion on demand, as part of a fight for quality health care for all, free at the point of delivery. It is outrageous that the government—from state legislatures up to the inherently reactionary Supreme Court—has the ultimate power to interfere in people’s most intimate, private decisions. While the Republican bible-thumpers compete to openly overturn Roe, the “pro-choice” Democrats have allowed the reactionaries to gut access to abortion. Reliance on the capitalist rulers and their judges simply cedes ground to the forces of anti-abortion reaction and undermines the necessary struggle to defend and extend women’s rights.
Racist Anti-Abortion Offensive
The ongoing erosion of access to abortion through TRAP legislation is powerfully depicted in the new documentary Trapped directed by Dawn Porter. The film, which focuses on clinics in Texas and Alabama as well as the lone surviving one in Mississippi, documents the heroic clinic workers and abortion providers struggling to keep their doors open. Interviews and anecdotes capture the impact that the shuttering of clinics has on women in the South who are unable to afford or access the service. One clinic owner explains that most patients are already mothers who are either unemployed or work long hours for paltry wages and know they can’t provide for another child. With the nearest clinic hundreds of miles away, women face barriers including lack of transportation, childcare expenses and having to take time off work. One story recounts how one woman had to drive across Texas with her husband and kids and camp out in an RV in the clinic parking lot for days because of all the legal restrictions and the waiting period.
In a scene at an Alabama clinic where procedures are on hold because of inability to comply with new regulations, staff field nonstop phone calls from desperate women, but have to direct them elsewhere. The waiting lists at the few operating clinics are so long that some women fall outside the 20-week legal limit. A worker at a Texas clinic recounts how she was forced to turn away a pregnant 13-year-old rape victim because of the late stage of her pregnancy. To get an abortion, the girl would need to gather thousands of dollars for the procedure, travel to New Mexico and arrange for accommodation while there. Noting the unlikelihood of this happening, the staffer wells up with tears saying, “We sentenced her to motherhood.”
Faced with such obstacles, women will find a way to have an abortion, but it might well not be safe or legal. One abortion provider in the film recalls a patient asking, “What if I told you what I have in my kitchen cabinet and you tell me what I can do?” Up to 240,000 women in Texas alone are estimated to have tried to end their pregnancies themselves without medical assistance. “Do-it-yourself” abortions—using everything from herbs to bleach to catheters—are on the rise in states where there are the most restrictions. Many of those same states criminalize women for suspected self-induced miscarriages. A 31-year-old Tennessee woman, Anna Yocca, is facing a life sentence after being charged in December with attempted murder for using a coat hanger to terminate her 24-week pregnancy. Last summer, Kenlissa Jones, a black 23-year-old in Georgia, was charged with “malice murder” after taking abortion-inducing medication bought online. Though the murder charge was dropped, she still faces a misdemeanor charge for possession of the abortion pills without prescription.
Trapped shows the extraordinary courage and conviction of clinic workers and abortion providers, including Willie Parker, a black Christian doctor who gave up a prestigious career in obstetrics to provide abortions in Mississippi, the poorest of the states of the former Confederacy. While showing bible-thumping protesters preaching faith-based filth outside clinics, the film gives only a small taste of the daily violence and harassment faced by doctors and clinic workers. Among those protesters could be another terrorist like Robert Dear, responsible for murdering three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last November. In one scene showing the pure racist venom of protesters, a white anti-abortion crusader shouts that Dr. Parker sickens her because he’s a black man who is “destroying black lives” and comes to “kill his own race.” The fact that black women experience the highest rates of unintended pregnancies—because of lack of contraception, poverty and lousy education—is what compels providers like Dr. Parker to dedicate their lives to providing abortion services.
Republicans, Democrats, Supreme Court: Enemies of Women’s Rights
In a recent interview on Jezebel.com, Trapped filmmaker Dawn Porter noted that the upcoming presidential elections should make abortion “a voting issue for people who care about it.” In the lead-up to Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, Democrats worked to co-opt a layer of mostly white, middle-class women voters alienated by religious bigots who openly reveled in the subordination of women as wives and baby-makers. Latching onto the Democrats as the supposed friends of women, liberals and feminists rallied behind Clinton’s presidential election campaign, not least because the next president would decide the balance of the Supreme Court. The end result was that over the next period, the number of abortion providers plunged as clinics closed across the country. Jump forward 24 years and the same pressures are being brought to bear.
In February, all-purpose reactionary Justice Antonin Scalia did the only good thing he could for humanity and dropped dead. His body wasn’t cold before the appointment of his successor became a political football between the two parties of the bourgeoisie. Now, liberals ponder the abortion stance of Obama’s new “centrist” appointee, Merrick Garland. In the Texas case, liberal hopes rest on the supposedly reasonable Justice Anthony Kennedy, particularly following his decisive vote in the legalization of same-sex marriage—an important gain albeit one that had more to do with affirming marriage as a legal contract than with sexual freedom. Kennedy co-wrote the vague “undue burden” clause of the 1992 Casey decision and has supported many anti-abortion measures since. In recent years, the Supreme Court of injustice has ruled against black voting rights, Medicaid expansion, affirmative action and just about anything that smacks of civil rights, integration or secularism.
It was not the political composition of the 1973 court—the majority of whom were Republican appointees—which led to the legalization of abortion. The historic Roe decision was a concession to explosive mass struggle. The women’s liberation movement arose as hundreds of thousands of radicalized youth took to the streets to fight for black rights and against the dirty imperialist war in Vietnam. But this period was short-lived. As long as the capitalist system remains in place, even the most minimal gains for working people, women and minorities—achieved in the first place as a result of social struggle and not through the ballot, lobbying Congress or the Supreme Court—can be rolled back, as the onslaught on abortion rights demonstrates.
Just as Bill Clinton was painted as a defender of women, today Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid is being touted by feminists and abortion-rights activists. NARAL endorses Hillary Clinton as “a champion with a demonstrated record of fighting for reproductive freedom and economic justice.” It is worth recalling that she supported the policies implemented during her husband’s presidency, which consigned millions of women and children to poverty through the racist drive to “end welfare as we know it” and set the stage for states to implement a host of anti-abortion measures.
Though the Democrats differ from the Republicans on tactics and rhetoric, the “lesser evil” party is just as committed to the preservation of the capitalist system, to the exploitation of the working class, to the institution of the family and to furthering U.S. imperialist interests abroad. The feminists’ strategy of relying on the Democratic Party has demobilized fighters for women’s rights and ceded terrain to reactionaries who are gunning to outlaw abortion. Hillary Clinton’s mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” sounds like former Texas governor Rick Perry, who declared, referring to HB2, that abortion should be as “rare as possible.” Alongside her emphasis on faith and family values, Clinton expresses her “respect” for those opposing abortion rights.
A victory for the Texas abortion providers in the current Supreme Court case would provide immediate respite for thousands of women. However, it would have no effect on the numerous other restrictions on abortion: time limits, waiting periods, parental consent and bans on government funding, to name a few. Pushing faith in the courts deepens illusions that the bourgeois state, which upholds the sanctity of the family, will act in the interests of women.
Feminism is sometimes understood as a wish for equality between men and women, but it is in fact a political program based on seeing the main division in society as gender, rather than class. The feminist strategy of supporting the capitalist Democrats and relying on the capitalist state to protect women’s rights is in reality an obstacle in the fight for women’s liberation.
We fight for women’s liberation as part of a program for the working class to take power and overthrow the capitalist system. For this, the working class must come to the understanding of the need to combat all forms of oppression as part of the battle to free itself from wage slavery. The job of the revolutionary party, which we seek to build, is to bring this consciousness to the working class. Only overturning the profit system and establishing the rule of the working class can open the road to liberation for women and all humanity. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!