The editorial and news article below, published in The Militant last year, go to the heart of the stakes involved
Defend women’s right to choose! (editorial)
February 1, 2016
The labor movement and all working people should join in the fight against the growing number of state laws restricting women’s access to abortion, and against the attacks on Planned Parenthood.
Defending the right to choose abortion is a working-class question: the right to decide when or if to bear children is fundamental to a woman’s control of her own life and to winning full social, economic and political equality, a prerequisite to uniting the working class. The attacks on the right to choose — from waiting periods to excessive regulations designed to force clinics to close to denial of Medicaid and insurance coverage for abortion — land hardest on working-class women and the rural poor.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution registered the conquests of the Second American Revolution, which put an end to chattel slavery. It says, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The fight for abortion to be the decision of a woman — not the government, a doctor, a relative or anyone else — is part of the fight to extend this constitutional protection fully to women.
In the context of today’s capitalist depression and growing attacks on working people, the rulers’ efforts to relentlessly cut women’s access to abortion is part of a broader campaign against working-class women to undermine their confidence, drive down the value of their labor power and divide the working class.
Women and the working class are paying a big price today for the refusal of the established women’s rights organizations to mobilize spirited public actions in support of women’s right to abortion, and campaign vigorously for it as a fundamental question of women’s equality. Like most liberals today, they believe workers are moving to the right, evidenced by the support for Donald Trump. They argue supporters of abortion should focus on “stopping the right” and not to rock the boat. Trust in the courts, they say, and work to elect “pro-choice” politicians.
The Socialist Workers Party points to the young people who mobilized in Chicago Jan. 17 against restrictions on women’s right to choose abortion as a good example that can and should be emulated.
Protest hits restrictions on abortion rights, cuts to Planned Parenthood
BY EMMA JOHNSON
AND NAOMI CRAINE
As part of continuing attacks on women’s rights, a new law took effect in North Carolina Jan. 1 imposing a three-day waiting period before a woman can get an abortion and requiring doctors to submit ultrasound and other documentation to state officials for any abortion after the 16th week of pregnancy.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Jan. 12 that all state Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri would be cut off. This affects access to contraception, cancer screenings and other medical services for some 400,000 people.
These are among the latest moves in the chipping away at access to abortion that began almost immediately after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling decriminalized the procedure in 1973. The avalanche of state restrictions in recent years highlights problems for defenders of women’s rights that have been embedded in that decision from the beginning.
“Women’s rights is the issue, that’s why I came,” Kelly Peck, a 24-year-old food store worker, told the Militant at a rally defending abortion rights and protesting the North Carolina law in downtown Chicago Jan. 17. “Women have the right to decide and should be able to control their own bodies.” Like many other young women at the rally of about 100, it was Peck’s first political action.
Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation called the spirited protest to counter an annual “March for Life” anti-abortion rally of several hundred. “We need to be in the streets more,” Lauren Bianchi of FURIE told participants. “Everyone here should get involved. We need to have access to health care facilities without fearing for our lives.” In November an opponent of abortion rights killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
North Carolina is the third state to enact the new ultrasound requirement. “The true intent of the law is clear — to shame women and intimidate the doctors [who] care for them,” said Melissa Reed, vice president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. It’s “medically unnecessary and purely politically driven.”
Supporters of the law say it will help enforce North Carolina’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in a medical emergency. Only one other state, Mississippi, bans abortion as early as 20 weeks.
Roe not based on women’s equality
Limits on access to abortion, such as those in North Carolina, build on the “trimester” system codified in Roe v. Wade. In striking down a Texas abortion ban, the Supreme Court ruled that for the first three months the decision to terminate a pregnancy “must be left to the medical judgment of pregnant woman’s attending physician.” After that time, state governments may “regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
And “subsequent to viability,” the states have an “interest in the potentiality of human life” and may prohibit abortion, except “for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.” Roe v. Wade described viability as the point at which a fetus is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid” — a definition that shifts with medical advances. Basing a woman’s right to abortion on medical judgments, rather than women’s fundamental right to make decisions about their bodies and lives is being used by opponents of women’s rights to justify increasingly onerous restrictions.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime proponent of women’s rights who has served on the Supreme Court since 1993, has raised important criticisms of Roe v. Wade. The decision was not rooted in the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law, Ginsburg said in a 1985 article in the North Carolina Law Review.
The equal protection guarantee, a conquest of the revolutionary struggle that ended slavery in the 1860s, was the basis of numerous Supreme Court rulings registering gains in the growing fight for Black rights in the 1950s and ’60s, she noted. But for decades, until 1971, the court rejected any attempt to apply the 14th Amendment protections to women. And none of the court’s decisions related to reproductive rights were decided on that basis.
Roe v. Wade, she argued, is weakened by its “concentration on a medically approved autonomy idea, to the exclusion of a constitutionally based sex-equality perspective.” The case would be stronger “had the Court placed the woman alone, rather than the woman tied to her physician, at the center of its attention.”
In the 1985 article and elsewhere, Ginsburg has stated her view that the ruling was premature, cutting short the ability of the growing movement for women’s right to choose abortion to win broader support on the basis of women’s equality, an issue that was being fought out state by state.
Ginsburg also gets at the class questions posed in the fight to defend abortion rights. Asked in a 2014 interview with the New Republic what would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned, she said, “It would be bad for non-affluent women.” If the ruling were overturned “there would remain many states that would not go back to the way it once was. What that means is any woman who has the wherewithal to travel … will never have a problem. … Women who can’t pay are the only women who would be affected.”
That, of course, has been the class impact of every inroad against the right to choose, beginning with the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which barred Medicaid coverage of abortion for poor women.
Four decades later, some 90 percent of U.S. counties lack abortion providers. In the five years since 2011 states have adopted 288 restrictions, roughly as many as in the 15 years before. A majority of states have waiting periods. States in the Midwest and the South account for most of the restrictions.
Later this year the Supreme Court will rule on a challenge to a Texas law requiring abortion providers to meet surgical center standards and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If the law is upheld, all but 10 abortion clinics in the state would be forced to close.
Laura Anderson in Chicago contributed to this article.