The U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is an enormous setback to women’s rights. It is the biggest step to restrict democratic rights in at least half a century. It marks a sharp shift to the right in bourgeois politics, one that has accelerated in recent years.
There is no reason to believe the assault on a woman’s right to choose abortion will end with the 6-3 ruling in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. To the contrary, within hours of the decision abortion became virtually illegal in nine states. More will follow quickly.
Right-wing forces feel the wind in their sails and are acting now to further restrict women’s rights, state by state. They will continue to challenge medication abortion — “morning after” pills — and may also target birth control. Attempts to criminalize women traveling for medical care to states that legally protect abortion, and those who assist them, may also be accelerated.
The war on women won’t stop there. Proposals to adopt federal law to criminalize abortion throughout the United States may be on the table if the most radical opponents of women’s rights make further gains in Congress or retake the White House. Having held that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,” there is no reason to expect the court would block such measures.
If women’s rights supporters do not answer this attack on fundamental liberties, if we don’t mount a powerful battle to reverse it, other women’s rights and democratic rights will be in greater jeopardy. In his concurring opinion Justice Clarence Thomas named three other landmark cases that relied on that same legal reasoning as Roe and Casey: Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision that declared married couples had a right to contraception; Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case invalidating sodomy laws and making same-sex sexual activity legal across the country; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case establishing the right of gay couples to marry. Thomas wrote the court “should reconsider” all three decisions, saying it had a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents.
For decades, rightist forces have dishonestly claimed a concern for the “right to life.” The high court ruling echoed them when it asserted that passage of state laws criminalizing abortion or greatly restricting women’s right to control their own bodies was “spurred by a sincere belief that abortion kills a human being.”
Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King concisely answered this hypocrisy long ago. In 1967, when he publicly denounced the horrors of U.S. aggression in Vietnam, King insisted he must speak “clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
Every branch of the U.S. government has shown contempt for human life again and again.
The court’s claim rings hollow. The primary goal of laws criminalizing abortion is to enforce women’s status as a “second sex.” The capitalist class continues to profit handsomely from this second-class status of women in society.
These ruling-class aims became a little more transparent in the section of the Dobbs decision where the court outlined criteria it will use to judge the legitimacy of state measures regulating abortion in the future. The justices did this with a straight face after disparaging Roe for having laid down too many rules regulating abortion!
Such laws “would serve legitimate state interests,” said the ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito. What are these interests? They include “respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development,” Alito wrote, “the elimination of particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedures; the preservation of the integrity of the medical profession; the mitigation of fetal pain…” It seems that protecting women’s lives and their ability to control their own bodies are not “legitimate state interests.”
The war on women’s rights today would not be possible without substantial support from the billionaires of all political stripes — liberal and conservative — who hold political power.
In support of their radical action, Alito and Co. cited legal precedents going back to the 1600s, when not only abortion was illegal, but women were barred from voting or owning property and were largely confined to the home. Women then were shackled with even heavier chains of exploitation and oppression — as many still are around the world. The court majority wants to turn back the clock. It aims to reverse progress toward achieving women’s equality.
The nation’s tradition
“The dissent cannot establish that a right to abortion has ever been part of this Nation’s tradition,” the Supreme Court ruling stated cynically.
Whose tradition? Alito noted abortion is not mentioned in the constitution. Nor are women. No woman participated in adopting the constitution. The right to vote was not granted to a single woman until the 20th century. The “tradition” established by the U.S. constitution included chattel slavery and considered enslaved Black people to be 3/5 of a human being.
The Union victory in the Civil War overturned slavery and led to the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution that fundamentally changed the “tradition” of the nation in constitutional and other terms. The 14th amendment established what is known as the “equal protection clause.” The government “must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances,” explains the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute in describing that amendment. Restricting a woman’s right to choose abortion denies women the equal right to control their own bodies that is held inviolate for men.
Moreover, in the 50 years since Roe v. Wade was established as federal law, majority support for a woman’s right to control her own body has been confirmed again and again.
It is necessary now to mobilize that majority opinion in mass action to reverse this attack. Opponents of women’s rights hope to discourage us. Action in the streets that brings supporters of women’s rights together can counter that.
Some supporters of the right to choose tell us otherwise. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in response to the court decision: “The rights of women and all Americans will be on the ballot this November.” Yet Pelosi and the entire Democratic House leadership have insisted on their endorsement of Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar’s re-election bid. Cuellar is a steadfast opponent of a woman’s right to choose.
The urgent fight to defend women’s rights cannot rely on the political parties of the wealthy rulers of this country. Action independent of that class and its parties — Republicans and Democrats — is required. Political figures of those parties, if they genuinely support a woman’s right to choose, should back mass action in the streets by women’s rights supporters. We can no longer afford to follow them.
As a May 10 World-Outlook editorial explained, “Democrats have treated a woman’s right to choose as something to be restricted, not defended.” The Democratic Party has paved the way for the right-wing assault on women’s rights.
The editorial, “A Turning Point in the Fight for Women’s Right to Choose Abortion,” added: “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.”
It continued, “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 never — and should never — be fully equal.”
Where do we go from here? As World-Outlook wrote on May 10, “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….
“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.”