On March 13, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to ban what abortion opponents refer to as “partial birth abortion.” The ban would prohibit women from obtaining abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy – yet another way to limit a woman’s right to choose.
The deceptive term “partial birth abortion” does not exist in any medical dictionary or text, nor is it recognized by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or the American Medical Women’s Association. It was coined by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an organization opposed to all abortions.
The NRLC defines “partial birth abortion” as “an abortion procedure in which the person performing the abortion partially delivers vaginally” a living fetus before causing fetal demise. Virtually all abortion procedures involve bringing the fetus through the vagina. If that were made a crime, then all abortions could be interpreted as illegal, forcing women back to the days when countless women died from illegal and unsafe abortions.
This attack on abortion comes alongside an unprecedented series of attacks by the Bush administration on women’s rights. On his first day in office, Bush cut off funding to international family planning organizations that provide abortion information or services.
Bush also declared January 22, the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (the 1973 court case that legalized abortion), “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” He not so subtly linked abortion to terrorism, stating: “On September 11, we saw clearly that evil exists in this world, and that it does not value life. Now we are engaged in a fight against evil and tyranny to preserve and protect life.”
Yet Bush has done very little to “preserve and protect life.” His $400 billion military budget (nearly half of the entire world’s military spending) doesn’t leave much money for school lunches, child nutrition, or community health programs, all of `which have faced serious cuts. Cuts in elderly care, healthcare, and childcare disproportionately affect women who are expected to pick up the slack.
The Bush administration also proposed requiring welfare recipients, many of whom are mothers, to work 40 hours per week instead of 30 to collect such benefits as childcare and education subsidies. And where does Bush propose that women look for help? A husband! Bush is spending $300 million for marriage promotion and counseling to women on welfare. Women would benefit much more if that money were spent on childcare or educational opportunities instead of counselors telling them to get married.
Democrats’ Broken Promises
The leadership of today’s mainstream feminist organizations, such as NARAL and the National Organization for Women (NOW), attempt to protect women’s rights by using a limited legal strategy and by campaigning for Democratic candidates.
While the Democrats pay lip service to women’s rights, an honest look at their record reveals that they have consistently failed to deliver. When it comes to choosing between taxing corporations to pay for childcare, for example, or returning favors to campaign contributors, the Democrats choose Corporate America every time.
President Clinton, for example, promised to pass a “Freedom of Choice Act” to guarantee the right to abortion, but after he was elected, he barely mentioned it again. In fact, Clinton signed into law congressionally-imposed abortion restrictions on federal employees, Washington DC residents, and Medicaid recipients.
Throughout the eight years Clinton and Gore sat in the White House, they failed to stop the numerous restrictions on abortion access that were passed, much less extend its access or make it free. And it was Bill Clinton who promoted and passed the Welfare Reform Act, which was a bigger attack on women and the poor than anything Reagan or Bush Sr. were able to get away with.
Since Dubya stole the White House, the Democrats haven’t been any better. 16 Democrats voted in favor of the most recent abortion ban, including minority leader Tom Daschle. Even without a majority in Congress, they had enough votes to filibuster (block) the bill if they had chosen to. Senate Democrats also approved several of Bush’s conservative, anti-choice federal Court nominees in the name of “bipartisanship” and “supporting the President.”
Time for Women to Fight Back
Focusing on getting Democrats elected prevents women from organizing their own movement, with demands based on what women actually need rather than what is acceptable to the Democratic Party. Instead, we should look at how women won their rights in the first place.
Abortion was legalized under pressure from a massive women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s and ’70s that involved millions of women. The women’s movement also multiplied its strength by linking up with the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements.
Roe v. Wade was passed under Nixon, a Republican President, and the Supreme Court had a Republican-appointed majority. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court was forced to reflect the changed consciousness of the American public regarding the rights and abilities of women. Otherwise, the Court would have undermined its own legitimacy and the political system.
The latest vote in the Senate is yet another attempt to chip away at a woman’s right to control what she does with her own body. There’s a burning need to build a women’s movement to beat back the Bush attack.
If the right-wing Christian fundamentalists around Bush had it their way, women would not be free to work outside the home. We need to stand up and tell Bush we’re not going back!
Socialist Alternative is Campaigning for:
- Free, accessible contraception and family planning services
- Free, accessible abortion on demand
- No cuts in funding for healthcare, education, or welfare
- Free, high quality healthcare, education, childcare, and elderly care
- A $500/week minimum income for those caring for children, the elderly or the needy and for those who are unemployed
- Paid parental leave from work
- Equal pay for equal work
- Fight sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape
- End sweatshop labor