Last year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the mass grassroots movement that forced the Supreme Court to legalize a woman’s right to a safe abortion.
This right is a vital necessity for women to be able to control their own bodies and lives, especially poor and working women.
Though a woman’s right to choose is now supported by a majority of Americans, Bush and the religious right are bent on rolling back access to abortion. But women are fighting back. The four largest women’s organizations have joined together to organize a massive protest to defend women’s abortion rights on Sunday, April 25 in Washington, D.C. The protest organizers estimate that it will be the largest abortion rights demonstration in the capitol in over a decade, if not in U.S. history.
The first ban on an abortion procedure since abortion was legalized came in November 2003 when Bush banned “intact dilation and extraction,” misnamed as “partial-birth abortion,” a term coined by the National Right to Life Committee but not recognized by any medical association. This procedure is vilified for taking place during the third trimester of pregnancy, but it is very rarely used (only .05% of all abortions), only when a fetus is deformed or the mother’s life is in danger.
The ban makes no exceptions for when the health of the woman or fetus is at risk or when the pregnancy is due to rape. Many healthcare professionals oppose the ban, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Nurses Association, and the American Medical Women’s Association.
The “Partial Birth” Abortion Ban fosters an anti-abortion climate that has already limited the availability of abortions to a mere 13% of U.S. counties according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The ban is an alarming intrusion of government control over women’s private lives that opens the door to further limitations on the right to choose, threatening to turn the clock back to the days when thousands of women died every year from illegal, unsafe, back-alley abortions.
Women’s Rights Under Attack
This assault on abortion rights comes alongside a series of vicious attacks on women’s rights by the Bush administration. Bush declared the Sunday before the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to be “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” He tried to connect abortion with 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.”
This is coming from a president who lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and terrorist links, killing thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and U.S. soldiers in the process. While Bush spends $400 billion/year on the military and handed out $1.7 trillion in tax breaks for the rich, he has cut funding for healthcare, childcare, and elderly care, disproportionately harming women who are expected to pick up the slack for the reduced services.
Ever since the women’s liberation movement forced the Supreme Court to legalize abortion in 1973, the religious right has been dead set on overturning this decision. But given the public’s support for a woman’s right to choose and the balance of forces in U.S. society, the right wing has been forced, instead, to resort to gradually chip away at women’s abortion rights.
But we should be clear – their real agenda is to eventually ban abortion completely. That is why it is absolutely crucial that as many women and men as possible come to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, April 25, to demonstrate support for a woman’s right to choose safe, legal abortion and birth control.
We need to organize abortion rights teach-ins or protests at our campuses, workplaces, and communities in the build-up to April 25 to get busloads of people to Washington, D.C. We need to make April 25 a wake-up call to every person who is not aware that reproductive rights, women’s health, and women’s lives are on the line.
Should We Support Kerry and the Democrats?
We can’t wait around expecting judges or Democrats to protect our rights. We need to take to the streets now to defend our rights ourselves. This is how women succeeded in winning the right to choose in the first place. The same is true for how women won the right to vote, which was certainly not won by voting!
The leaders of the main women’s organizations (NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Feminist Majority, and Planned Parenthood), however, argue that a key priority is turning out the vote for John Kerry and the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ record proves that we can’t rely on them to consistently stand up to Bush and the right, much less wage a serious struggle to advance the interests of women.
If Kerry and the Democrats were serious about defending abortion rights, why don’t they use their authority and access to the media to help mobilize for April 25 and call for mass protests to stop Bush’s attacks on women? They only pay lip service to our demands during election years.
Bush’s recent late-term abortion ban only passed due to the support of 17 Democratic Senators, including Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, along with 62 Democratic Representatives.
Campaigning in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton pledged to pass a Freedom of Choice Act to guarantee the right to abortion, but after his inauguration he barely mentioned it again. During the entire eight years that Clinton and Gore occupied the most powerful office in the country, they failed to challenge the numerous restrictions on abortion rights that were passed. Rather than expanding the accessibility of abortion services or making them free, Clinton actually signed into law abortion restrictions for Medicaid recipients, Washington D.C. residents, and federal employees.
The Democrats have a long history of betrayals from Jimmy Carter’s signing the Hyde Amendment [see sidebar] to numerous laws that roll back abortion access in states and cities under Democratic control.
The big-business Democratic Party stands completely opposed to the fundamental interests of the majority of women. Rather than funding healthcare, education, and childcare, they spend billions on the Pentagon and imperialist wars. It was Democratic President Clinton who carried out a savage attack on the poor, especially women of color, when he destroyed welfare in 1996.
Our real allies in the struggle against Bush’s assault on women are the anti-war movement, the labor movement, LGBT people fighting for same-sex marriage rights, and people of color opposing racism. On all of these issues, big business and the Democrats are on the other side of the barricades. By linking up with these other struggles we can multiply our power and beat back Bush and his right-wing, corporate agenda.
Organizing powerful, mass protests like April 25 can make it politically unfeasible for politicians from either party to erode women’s rights. But let’s not stop there. Let’s use April 25 as a springboard to build a massive women’s movement that fights sexism on all fronts. Real choice means:
- Safe, accessible, free abortion on demand for women of all ages
- Safe, free birth control and an end to forced sterilization
- Money for jobs, healthcare, and education, not war and occupation
- Free, high quality healthcare, education, 24-hour childcare, pre-natal care, 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
- An end to sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape
Rolling Back Abortion Access
- The number of abortion providers has fallen by 66% in the past 20 years.
- Since 1995, states have enacted 335 anti-abortion measures.
- 33 states have laws requiring parental consent for minors.
- 18 states require a waiting period and “counseling” (usually anti-abortion).
- In 1977 the Hyde Amendment was signed into law by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, denying all federal funding for abortion and eliminating access for large numbers of poor women. Weeks after the passage of this amendment, Rosie Jimenez, a Medicaid recipient and mother of two, bled to death from a back-alley abortion.