Workers Vanguard No. 932

13 March 2009


Free Abortion on Demand!

Defend Dr. George Tiller!

After decades of intimidation and terror, courageous abortion provider Dr. George Tiller goes on trial March 16, threatened with 19 years in prison. One of the few remaining physicians providing “late-term” abortions in the U.S., Dr. Tiller and the staff of his Wichita Women’s Health Care Services have repeatedly been targeted by anti-abortion fanatics. Tiller’s clinic was bombed in 1986, and in 1993 he survived being shot several times in an assassination attempt. Tiller faces 19 misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s law requiring two doctors, without financial or legal ties to each other, to sign off on abortions done late in pregnancy (in Kansas, the arbitrary calculus of “late-term” is set at 22 weeks). Prosecutors claim that Tiller had a financial relationship with the doctor who provided a second opinion. These bogus charges are being used to railroad a courageous doctor who puts medical science and concern for his patients above his own well-being. The labor movement and all defenders of women’s rights must stand in defense of Dr. Tiller and demand: Stop the witchhunt against George Tiller! Drop the charges!

The attack on Dr. Tiller is part of a drive, by legal and extralegal means, to intimidate abortion providers and ultimately do away with women’s right to abortion. According to papers filed by Tiller’s lawyers, the district attorney obtained under false pretenses a court order directing a Wichita hotel to turn over registration records containing patients’ names. Under the pretext of investigating “child rape,” these records were then matched with medical records that Tiller was required to submit to the state, in order to discover the names of Tiller’s patients. D.A. Phill Kline, who launched the legal crusade against Tiller, was so frenzied in his campaign against abortion clinics that the state Supreme Court in December chastised him for showing “little, if any, respect” for “the rule of law” (Topeka Capital-Journal, 6 December 2008).

Nevertheless, on February 25 the judge in the criminal case against Tiller denied a defense motion to throw out prosecution evidence and refused to dismiss the case. Noting that the charges against Tiller had been filed by Kline’s successor as attorney general, a “pro-choice” Democrat, the judge ludicrously concluded that Kline’s actions “could not have tainted the investigation and prosecution of this case” (AP, 25 February).

The law being used to go after Tiller is just one of a slew of measures which have made abortion virtually inaccessible to a large number of women in this country. This is especially true for the young, working-class and poor, who already have limited access to decent health care, childcare, affordable housing or even enough food to feed their families. Today, 36 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy. Fully 34 states require one or both parents of young women under 18 to be notified and/or consent to an abortion. And 87 percent of U.S. counties—97 percent in nonmetropolitan areas—do not have an abortion provider.

Abortion is a politically explosive issue because it raises the question of the equality of women. This simple medical procedure provides women with some control over whether or not to have children. For this reason it is viewed as a threat to the institution of the family, which is a crucial prop for the system of capitalist exploitation. In order for safe and legal abortion to become a reality for working-class, minority and immigrant women, we call for free abortion on demand as part of free quality health care for all.

The increasing curtailment of the right to abortion reflects the policies of both the Democratic and Republican parties. As we wrote in “Drop the Charges Against Dr. George Tiller!” (WV No. 924, 7 November 2008):

“The reactionary demagogy of the Republicans is longstanding and obvious enough. But the fact is that there has been little ‘choice’ for poor women since Democrat Jimmy Carter (who now has become an international ‘human rights’ icon) signed into law in 1977 the Hyde Amendment eliminating Medicaid coverage for abortions. During Democrat Clinton’s eight years in office, welfare for mothers was axed, 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 restrictive laws were passed.”

President Barack Obama provoked a hysterical uproar among anti-abortion bigots when he nominated as Health and Human Services Secretary Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, a “pro-choice” Democrat who sponsored an April 2007 event at the governor’s residence with Tiller and his clinic’s staff. Yet during the election campaign, Obama told the Christian magazine Relevant that he opposed mental health exceptions for “late-term” abortion bans because “I don’t think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother” (AP, 4 July 2008). In office, Obama stripped from his economic stimulus package a proposal to allow states to expand Medicaid coverage of contraception and other family planning services. Obama’s proposed 2010 budget has been hailed by liberals for setting aside $634 billion for health care, but the reality is that about half that sum would come from spending cuts in programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The attacks on abortion rights are part of a campaign of social reaction aimed at regimenting the entire population—not just women, but black people, immigrants, gays and the working class as a whole. While the anti-abortion bigots call themselves “pro-life,” they enthusiastically support the racist death penalty. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the industrialized world.

The fight for abortion rights, decent living conditions and free quality health care mandates that we build a revolutionary workers party. The working class has the social power necessary to mobilize in defense of not only women, but all the oppressed. But to exercise that power it is necessary to wage a political struggle against the labor bureaucracy that keeps working people tied to the Democratic Party. The elimination of the right to abortion would redound against all working people. As we have often underlined, democratic rights either go forward together or fall back separately. The working class is uniquely situated to bring capitalist rule to an end. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!