Workers Vanguard No. 1155
17 May 2019
The Fight for Abortion Rights and the War on Immigrants
The years-long onslaughts against immigrants and abortion rights have converged in a double-barreled assault on Latinas. These attacks started long before Trump rode into the White House vowing to crack down on immigrants and overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to make abortion illegal. The anti-abortion fanatics, who today feel the wind in their sails, have for decades been aided and abetted by the Democrats, the other party of American capitalism, which no less than the Republican Party is an enemy of immigrants, black people and workers.
The detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border are racist hellholes, where women are subjected to all manner of brutality. The Trump administration tried to prevent teenagers held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement from obtaining abortions, forcing some of them to sue in order to have the procedure. Even now, the government is trying to beat back a court order that temporarily blocks it from interfering with detained minors who want abortions. As internal government documents released last year show, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and Border Patrol cops routinely commit acts of violence, including rape and sexual abuse. The thousands of atrocities revealed by these documents happened under Obama, who endowed his successor with a well-oiled “immigration enforcement” machine. Massive numbers of immigrants were packed off to detention centers and deportations soared to record levels.
Undocumented immigrants are trapped in the shadows, their lives stamped by fear, as is starkly displayed in Texas. Many there live in the colonias, the impoverished, often remote communities along the border that largely lack clean water, waste disposal and paved roads, much less health care. Undocumented Latinas face anti-woman bigotry, racism, language barriers, poverty, precarious jobs and the constant threat of deportation. It is nearly impossible for them to get insurance or medical care in this country’s for-profit health system.
To try to get an abortion in Texas today is to meet the full force of the drive to illegalize it. In that state, where more people are executed than in any other state, the House of Representatives considered a bill that would allow the death penalty for women who get abortions. It failed but it is indicative of the climate. Texas is “ground zero for government surveillance and hostility toward immigrants that sits at the crux of hatred for women, hatred of abortion,” as Jessica González-Rojas, head of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said of the border area.
Women are forced to make the agonizing choice between an abortion, which could pose the risk of deportation, and bearing a child that they are unable to raise. Following passage of the 2013 anti-abortion laws that forced the closure of more than half of Texas clinics, some 20 facilities remain open. Women must travel long distances with the terrifying possibility of being grabbed at one of the many internal Border Patrol checkpoints located up to 100 miles from the border. At the clinics, anti-abortion protesters intimidate and humiliate patients, snapping photos to be plastered on the internet or given to border cops.
I.C.E. agents often lurk in the parking lots. Once inside, patients must show state-issued ID. This measure was enacted in 2016 to prevent minors from getting abortions without parental or judicial approval, creating a dangerous hurdle for both teens and immigrant women. As immigration and reproductive rights activist Alejandra Pablos, who got an abortion amid still ongoing attempts to deport her, put it: “I don’t have the privilege to say, ‘my choice, my body’ when my body basically belongs to ICE.”
Even trying to access routine medical care is dangerous, as the case of Blanca Borrego, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, showed. In 2015, she sought care at a women’s clinic in the Houston area. When the staff called her into the exam room, she was arrested and handcuffed for using a false ID when she arrived for her appointment. For the nearly two million undocumented immigrants in Texas, this sent a terrifying message. Many legal immigrants, too, are avoiding doctors and hospitals, fearing that undocumented relatives will be grabbed by la migra.
What is needed is clear: free abortion on demand, quality health care for all, free at the point of service, and free 24-hour childcare, as well as full citizenship rights for everyone who makes it into this country. Such gains would go a long way to address the needs of immigrants, women and workers everywhere. All immigrants should be able to receive health services in their language or have an interpreter. This perspective is vital to the defense of the whole of the working class with its significant immigrant component.
Access to abortion is heavily conditioned by class. Wealthy women can always find ways to get around the restrictions on abortion. But for the majority of poor, Latina and black women—those who are uninsured, can’t afford it or can’t get to a clinic—there is effectively no right to abortion.
The years-long crusade against Planned Parenthood is an attack on these very women. One of the few organizations in the U.S. that offers low-cost health care to teens and poor, minority and working-class women, Planned Parenthood provides cancer screenings, birth control, sex education and, of course, abortions, which account for 3 percent of their services. Trump’s proposed “gag” law would make it illegal for Planned Parenthood and other facilities that receive federal Title X family planning funding to tell patients how to obtain an abortion. It would also bar women from getting birth control at these clinics.
Out of desperation, undocumented women and others are turning to self-induced abortions, which can be dangerous. Poverty, pregnancy and the utter lack of access to abortion combine to drive women to deadly measures, from throwing themselves down stairs to ingesting turpentine and other toxic substances. And if the state can prosecute, it will, as in the case of Anna Yocca, an Amazon worker who was charged with attempted murder for trying to abort her 24-week-old fetus with a coat hanger (see “Tennessee Tortures Woman for Abortion Attempt,” WV No. 1102, 16 December 2016).
The very safe abortion pill (mifepristone and misoprostol taken together) should be a godsend for women, but like many medical advances, the benefits are curtailed by medicine for profit. In the U.S., the pills can cost up to $1,600, putting them out of reach for many women. If obtained without a prescription, women can be and have been prosecuted, opening the door to deportation.
Abortion is simple and safer than pregnancy or childbirth, and it should be a private matter. But the issue is explosive because it allows women to control when or if to have children, thus posing the question of women’s legal and social equality. Abortion restrictions bolster the institution of the family, the main source of women’s oppression and—along with organized religion and the state—a crucial prop for the system of capitalist exploitation. A key function of the family is to instill respect for authority, regiment the population and enforce bourgeois morality, which condemns anything seen to undermine “motherhood” and “family values,” including abortion.
Latina women come from countries dominated by the Catholic church, where abortion, with few exceptions, is illegal and considered a sin. The idea that a fetus is a human being and endowed with a soul is an invention of the Catholic church. As materialists, we reject this notion. Far from being some “eternal truth” of Catholicism, the idea that human life begins at conception was invented by Pope Pius IX in 1869 as part of a drive to buttress the power of the church in the face of rising secularism and bourgeois nationalism.
This bogus doctrine, today seized on by both Protestant and Catholic foes of abortion, underpins the “fetal heartbeat” laws now on the books of many states. Less than two weeks ago, the Georgia legislature passed one such law that criminalizes abortion after six weeks, when many women do not even know they are pregnant; women who terminate their pregnancies beyond that can be imprisoned and charged with murder. Cut of the same cloth are the dozens of “fetal homicide” laws under which hundreds of women have been prosecuted for engaging in behavior deemed “unacceptable” while pregnant, from drinking alcohol to taking prescription drugs or not wearing a seat belt. These measures serve to reinforce the oppression of women in the family.
To many young activists, the future of abortion rights surely looks bleak. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was a critical gain for women, but it was limited, partial and, like all reforms under capitalism, reversible. And it has been reversed to the point where it hardly exists for many women, with some 90 percent of U.S. counties lacking any abortion provider. Since 1973, there have been well over 1,200 legal measures against abortion. In recent months, scarcely a day has passed without some extreme, new restriction being proposed. This underscores that looking to the courts and politicians is a forlorn hope. Abortion rights were won not thanks to a benevolent, supposedly liberal Supreme Court, but by years of explosive social struggle at the base of American society, centrally for black rights and against the Vietnam War.
Likewise, real blows against the war on abortion will come through struggle. That, in turn, requires combating the liberal, legalistic strategies of the feminist movement, which revolve around the election of “women-friendly” candidates (read Democrats) who will supposedly reverse the attacks on abortion. Looking to the Democrats has always demobilized fighters for women’s rights while ceding ground to the reactionaries. The Democrats make statements upholding Roe, but they represent the capitalist class and are committed to the institution of the family, the exploitation of the working class and U.S. imperialist interests abroad. When it matters, they accede to the anti-abortion crusade, and are fully complicit in the steady chipping away of abortion rights.
The Hyde Amendment signed by Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1977 eliminated abortion coverage from the Medicaid health plans of 23 million poor women and every president since then has renewed it. Over thirty years later, Obama ensured that under his Affordable Care Act federal funds were “not used for abortion services” nor would they benefit “those who are here illegally.” The combined effect of these measures was to force millions of women to pay for abortions—as for those who can’t pay, well, as Carter put it, “There are many things in life that are not fair.”
The devastation of abortion rights is part of the broader assault on the rights and living conditions of the working class as a whole, from poverty wages and skyrocketing medical costs to the shredding of what is left of the social safety net. As revolutionary communists, our defense of abortion rights and every other conquest that the workers and oppressed have won is part of our struggle to build a vanguard party—70 percent black, Latino and other minority—that will champion the interests of the proletariat against the capitalist rulers. Such a party will be, as Lenin said, a “tribune of the people,” fighting every form of capitalist oppression and violence so that the workers can see that their class interests lie in the overthrow of this racist capitalist order. Only when the working class takes power will it be possible to put an end to this system that requires the subjugation of women, laying the material basis for women’s liberation.