The leak of the draft Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade confirms what has been clear since September 2021 when the court refused to enjoin Texas law SB8. That measure largely made abortion illegal in the second largest state of the union. The court majority now plans to scrap the 1973 Roe decision and open the door to making most if not all abortions illegal in many other states. This is the most serious attack on women’s rights and all democratic rights in decades.
The Republican Party has championed the assault. But the Democratic Party has been complicit in eroding women’s right to choose abortion virtually since the moment Roe became law. As World-Outlook explained in a September 5, 2021, editorial:
A key moment in the drive to undermine the rights guaranteed by the Roe decision came in 1976 when the Democratic Party controlled both the House and Senate. The Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Hyde Amendment then, banning federal funding for most abortions. Large, veto-proof, bipartisan majorities approved Hyde, including then-Senator Biden (who now, after 45 years of the consequences of Hyde and other efforts to restrict access to abortion, says he has changed his mind). Every year since then, Democratic and Republican administrations alike have renewed Hyde, though the exact scope of the restrictions have varied.Defend a Woman’s Right to Choose Abortion!
A right to be restricted
Democrats have treated a woman’s right to choose as something to be restricted, not defended. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton captured this attitude — detrimental to women’s rights — when he said abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” A recent article by Molly Shah, which appeared in The Real News and reprinted by Portside, details the ways any serious defense of abortion rights has been subordinated for years to the concerns of Democratic Party officeholders and their largest, wealthiest donors. As Haley McMahon, a public health researcher, told Shah:
“Most Congressional Dems and those in the White House struggle to even say the word ‘abortion,’ much less champion the urgent need for expanding access and enacting federal protections. Many continue to use stigmatizing talking points that have been provided to them by the mainstream reproductive rights organizations.” Read the full article here.
Today the Democrats’ “answer” to the coming court decision is to schedule a vote in the Senate on a bill to codify the 1973 Roe decision as federal law. This is an empty gesture. The bill has zero chance of passing. Democrats claim it will force those who oppose abortion rights to make their views public. As if opponents of women’s rights have not been making their views clear for decades!
What is behind the drive to overturn a woman’s right to choose abortion? Without the right to control their own bodies and decide whether and when to have children — not only in cases of rape or incest but at any time — women can never achieve genuine equality. The capitalist class profits handsomely from the second-class status of women in society. That’s why both Republicans and Democrats have undermined women’s right to choose since Roe became law.
If Roe is overturned those who enforce the second-class status of women won’t stop at leaving it to the states to decide whether abortion is legal or not. Laws are already in place or are being crafted to criminalize women and abortion providers when women travel to seek care to a state where the procedure remains protected. Abortion by medication (using the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol) will come under further assault. Speaking on CNN May 8, Mississippi’s governor Tate Reeves would not rule out that his state would next ban some forms of contraception. Federal law to criminalize abortion throughout the country may be on the table if the most radical opponents of women’s rights make further gains in Congress or retake the White House.
Denial of abortion rights will be felt most sharply by those who have already suffered the most from decades of restrictions of that right: working-class women, especially Black women and others who face racist oppression and other forms of discrimination. The court decision will not end abortion, it will make abortion less available and much more dangerous. Working-class and rural women in states with the worst restrictions will suffer badly. Women with greater economic resources will find ways to access legal abortion services, as long as they exist, but all women will suffer.
Where do we go from here? We should begin with an understanding that was more widespread when the fight for women’s liberation shook U.S. politics over 50 years ago. If women and those who support women’s rights do not fight in a consistent and uncompromising way, and independent of the capitalist parties, no one else will.
Origins of the fight for women’s emancipation
The women’s liberation movement emerged in the U.S. inspired by the Black freedom struggle and the fight to end Washington’s war against Vietnam. Women who joined and led those fights took up the banner of their own liberation. This dynamic unfolded around the globe as a worldwide radicalization of young people exploded. Women relied on themselves and the power of mass action to win over others. That strategy is the opposite of looking to either of the two capitalist parties. Reliance on the Democrats has demobilized supporters of women’s rights and has resulted in the disaster unfolding today.
The recent women’s rights protests in Chicago, Houston, and other U.S. cities, and those called nationwide for May 14, are a step in the right direction. But a new strategy and a new leadership are necessary. The balance sheet on the strategy of organizations that are tied to the Democratic Party machine is in: It has failed.
We face more than the overturn of Roe v. Wade. As the Democrats and organizations that look to them have ceded political ground to right-wing opponents of women’s rights, they have reinforced the idea that some women’s choices to obtain abortion are acceptable while others are not. It is necessary to fight for the hearts and minds of working people and others on this issue.
It is virtually unheard of to hear anyone argue that any man needs to explain to anyone any decision he makes about his own body. That must be absolutely and equally true for women as well. Abortion is a singularly personal decision for every woman and cannot be subject to anyone else’s approval. To argue otherwise is to suggest that women can — and should — never be fully equal.
Restrictions on abortion rights fly in the face of the long-standing majority support that still exists today for women’s right to choose abortion. That sentiment needs to be organized and mobilized in educational activities, street demonstrations, and other ways. We must debate and answer the opponents of women’s rights. We need to take the fight into the trade unions and among the thousands of workers at Amazon, Starbucks, and elsewhere fighting to organize unions. Women’s equality on the job, as in all areas of social life, is impossible without the right to control one’s own body.
Out of such efforts a new leadership of the fight for women’s emancipation can be forged. As is true for the labor movement and the entire working class, such new leadership will have to come forward out of new struggles.