By Nancy Rosenstock
“On October 2, we’re going to send the Supreme Court and lawmakers across the country a clear, unified message. The attack on our reproductive rights will not be tolerated.”from National Call to Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights
CHICAGO, September 25, 2021—At an unprecedented and critical juncture in the fight for women’s right to choose safe, legal abortion, Women’s March has called for rallies in every state on October 2. This call for coordinated national demonstrations should be championed by every defender of women’s rights.
Women’s March is the organization behind the massive rallies that occurred the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. The call for marches on October 2 is supported by more than 90 organizations. These include Planned Parenthood, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Mississippi in Action, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, Working Families Party, and SisterSong, to name just a few.
On September 1, Texas Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy—at a time when most women don’t even know they are pregnant—took effect. No exceptions are granted in case of rape or incest. According to Planned Parenthood, 84% of abortions in Texas happen after six weeks. On September 1, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, rejected an emergency request to block this draconian bill. In addition to the abortion ban, the law offers a bounty of $10,000 for every successful lawsuit against anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion—doctors, health center workers, friends, taxi drivers, or any others.
“This new law would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits designed to bankrupt health centers, harass providers, and isolate patients,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The cruelty is the point—and we will not let it stand.”
New restrictions on abortion
As if this wasn’t enough, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on September 17 another restriction on the right of women to choose abortion. The new law, which goes into effect December 2, curbs the ability to obtain abortion medication through the mail. Prior to the new measure, such medications could be obtained up to the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Now the medication will be unavailable after the first seven weeks.
Black and Latina woman, those with low incomes, and those in rural areas, who already face tremendous obstacles to a safe, legal abortion, will especially feel the effects of these new Texas laws.
On September 9, the U.S. Attorney General filed a lawsuit seeking to block implementation of the Texas abortion ban. Subsequently, on September 14, the U.S. Justice Department moved to block the Texas law by seeking a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction from a federal judge to prevent its enforcement.
On September 14 twenty-four state attorneys general filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Justice Department’s position. “I am filing an amicus brief to defend access to abortion for Texans and people across the country,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said at a press conference. “24 AGs will not stand by while extremist politicians trample on the Constitution and basic human rights… This law makes a mockery of our Constitution.”
In another dangerous threat to abortion rights, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments December 1 regarding a 2018 Mississippi law, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which imposes a 15-week abortion ban. This case is designed to be a direct challenge to the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that decriminalized abortion.
The Texas and Mississippi bans come on the heels of other restrictions on women’s right to access abortion care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 97 abortion restrictions were enacted in 2021 alone!
With wind in their sails, governors and state legislators in other states have threatened similarly restrictive abortion bills. “I have ordered a bill to be filed in Arkansas to update our law to mirror Texas SB8 bill,” stated Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert, according to an article in the September 3 Newsweek.
Abortion effectively banned in Texas
The cruel Texas law has already had a dramatic effect on women in that state, where abortion is now effectively banned. Providers who do not comply with the law face dangerous consequences. In a September 3 article titled “Abortion Clinics are Already Seeing a Wave of Patients Fleeing Texas,” Vice News quotes Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women, an abortion clinic in Oklahoma City. “If we wanted to know what things were going to look like if Roe fell, we’re getting a sneak peek,” Tong said. “And it would be even more horrendous.” Tong reported that the phones at the Oklahoma City clinic have been ringing off the hook since the Texas bill went into effect. The same is true in other states surrounding Texas.
In an opinion piece published September 18 in the Washington Post, titled “Why I Violated Texas’s Extreme Abortion Ban,” Dr. Alan Braid disclosed he had given an abortion to a woman whose pregnancy was beyond the new state limit of six weeks after September 1. “I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients,” wrote Braid, “and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care. I fully understand that there could be legal consequences—but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.” Dr. Braid has been performing abortions for more than 40 years.
On September 20, two people sued Dr. Braid for violation of the Texas law. Felipe Gomez from Illinois identified himself in his lawsuit as a “pro-choice plaintiff.” Oscar Stilley, a former lawyer convicted of tax fraud in 2010 and who is on home confinement in Arkansas, is the other plaintiff. “Well, that’s the law and I want the $10,000 and I intend to be the fastest gun in the West,” he said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. A true revelation as to the vigilante character of this Texas law!
A report filed by NBC in Dallas-Forth Worth September 15, a mere 15 days after the Texas ban went into effect, revealed the ramifications have been sharply felt. One Texas woman was forced to travel nearly 1,000 miles to Colorado for an abortion. In Houston, Melaney Linton, president of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, reported that at the organization’s clinics in Houston only 63 women were scheduled for an abortion in the 10 days since the ban went into effect, far fewer than the roughly 25 normally seen on a single day. Eleven of these patients were turned away after discovering that they were more than six weeks pregnant.
The Women’s Health Protection Act
Many Democratic Party politicians are throwing their support behind the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 (WHPA). Passed in the U.S. House of Representatives September 24, the bill would “protect” the right to abortion. Its supporters claim it would “codify Roe v. Wade.”
“In the wake of Texas’ unprecedented attack, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live,” said a statement issued by the Biden administration on September 20. “The Administration looks forward to working with Congress as the Women’s Health Protection Act advances through the legislative process to ensure that this bill codifies and is consistent with the protections established by Roe and subsequent Supreme Court precedent.”
One of the strengths of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision is that it upheld the right to privacy when it comes to deciding whether to choose an abortion—a decision that is up to a woman and her doctor. According to the ruling, abortions can only be banned by state law after the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The WHPA bill claims to “codify Roe” and protect abortion “prior to fetal viability.” But who defines “fetal viability”? Going down that road puts the interests and health of women second and takes the focus off a woman’s right to choose. This is not a matter for the state to regulate. It also opens up supporters of the right to abortion to unnecessary attack from anti-abortion forces. Fighters for legal abortion prior to the 1973 Supreme Court decision determined that engaging in this discussion was a diversion. That continues to be the case—we must start and end with women’s rights. Without the right to control our own bodies, women’s equality is impossible.
It is unlikely that the Senate will pass the WHPA, which would also be subject to challenge in the Supreme Court if it becomes law. Focusing on this bill stands in sharp contrast to defending what we already have—the right to choose legal abortion based on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
540 rallies nationwide
Now is the time to mobilize majority sentiment to defend our rights. As of September 21, Women’s March announced 540 rallies nationwide. In Chicago, where a rally is planned in downtown Daley Plaza, already 20 different organizations have signed on, including Chicago Abortion Fund, Chicago National Organization for Women (NOW), Chicago for Abortion Rights, Indivisible Illinois Social Justice Alliance, Clinic Vest Project, and She Votes Illinois.
A unified press conference initiated by Chicago for Abortion Rights will be held September 27. Speakers include Gina Rozman-Wendle, president of Chicago NOW; Jennifer Welch, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Illinois; Jaquie Algee, president of Women’s March Chicago and vice president/director of external relations of Service Employees International Union-Health Care IL & IN; and Deborah Cosey-Lane, secretary treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 308, president of ATU Illinois Legislative Joint Conference, and board member of Women’s March Chicago.
In a significant development for the right to choose abortion, on September 20 more than 500 athletes and sports associations signed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Mississippi case before the Supreme Court. “As women athletes and people in sports, we must have the power to make important decisions about our own bodies and exert control over our reproductive lives,” said a statement by Megan Rapinoe, World Cup soccer and Olympic gold medalist.
While lawsuits, injunctions and other legal avenues are important, what we need to ensure that we will win our rights and beat back the right-wing campaign fueled by the government, is sustained, massive mobilizations in the streets. Taking a close look at the history of social struggle and advancement—from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s to the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and early ’70s— teaches us this: majority sentiment must be organized and mobilized, marching and rallying with broad support for however long it takes.
Large majority opposes overturning Roe
Those battles did not begin with majority support. That was won through sustained, determined struggle over time. Our starting point in the fight for women’s rights today is far stronger. “Fewer than one-third of Americans want to see the Roe v. Wade decision overturned, according to a set of three polls released over the past week,” CNN reported September 22, “with key elements of Texas’ restrictive new abortion law also garnering relatively little support in the polls.”
Abortion is a simple, safe medical procedure that should not be subject to any more stringent regulation than other similar procedures. There should be no laws restricting a woman’s control of her own reproductive system.
We have also learned from history that no social gain is permanently secure. We must continue to defend the right of every woman to choose abortion without restrictions. And who better than ourselves to do this? Not a Democratic or Republican politician, not a Supreme Court judge. No, we learned that if women don’t fight for our rights, no one will. It’s also clear that tying our fight for women’s rights to an electoral strategy, the strategy followed by most national women’s organizations for the last several decades, has not secured the right to abortion and is insufficient to beat back the right-wing assault on our rights. We also know that without the ability to control our own bodies, we will never be free.
Women have achieved tremendous gains over the last several decades—more and more opportunities are available to women today than ever before. The attacks on the right to abortion aim to reverse this trend; to control us, push us back, try to convince us that our main role in society is to reproduce and be mothers. They aim to establish that we alone should bear the cost of childcare, that it’s “OK” and “natural” for us to be paid less than men for the same work. Standing up for the right to control our own bodies, to determine when and if we will have children, says “NO” to this ideological campaign.
Little more than two months remain before the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi case. Let’s use this time to demonstrate public support for the right of every woman to choose abortion. Let’s be prepared to continue the fight, in the streets, for as long as it takes.
We will not go back! When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Fight back! All out October 2!
Nancy Rosenstock was an activist in Boston Female Liberation and served on the national staff of the Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition in 1971. Today she is a member of Chicago for Abortion Rights. She is the author of the forthcoming book Inside The Second Wave of Feminism: A Participants’ Account of Boston Female Liberation, 1968–1972, which is scheduled for publication in 2022 by Haymarket Books.
Categories: Women's Rights