The religious right has declared war on women and our reproductive rights. With Bush reelected, the Republicans’ grip on Congress strengthened, and same-sex marriage bans passed in 11 states, the November election has emboldened the religious right, which is demanding paybacks for getting out the evangelical vote.
Republicans have already carried out one attack on women’s rights since the election, when they amended a bill that Bush signed into law December 8 allowing all healthcare providers to receive federal funding even if they are unwilling to provide a full range of healthcare services for women, including abortion services, counseling, or referrals (even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman’s life).
A whole host of future attacks are being planned, including a ban on transporting minors across state lines to get an abortion (to avoid parental notification and consent laws) and a second attempt to ban RU-486, the abortion pill, which was approved by the FDA in 2000 and has been widely used in Europe for almost two decades.
The biggest battles will erupt when at least one, and possibly up to four, Supreme Court justices retire in the next four years. This will give Bush the opportunity to appoint anti-choice justices, possibly setting the stage for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade (the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion).
This comes against the background of decades of attacks on abortion access by the right wing. Since 1995 alone, state legislatures have enacted over 380 laws restricting abortion access by imposing waiting periods, parental consent or notification requirements, and stricter regulations on clinics. The number of clinics and doctors has dwindled to the point where now 87% of U.S. counties do not have a single abortion provider.
Laws restricting abortion access disproportionately harm working-class women and women of color, who cannot always afford to miss work, leave their families, travel to another city or state, and pay for a hotel during the mandatory waiting periods. Abortions at 10 weeks of pregnancy typically cost $375, and many women do not have insurance that covers abortion.
Rich women, though, could always afford safe abortions, whether they were legal or not, by hiring an expensive doctor or traveling wherever they needed to get one.
Who is Really Pro-Life?
The religious right has put the women’s movement on the defensive in trying to make abortion a “moral” issue by equating it with murder. If we are to defend our rights, we must go on the offensive. The real issue at stake is the basic right of women to control our own bodies and our own lives. Women will never be free if we can be forced to bear a child and raise it to adulthood against our will, robbing us of our own dreams and goals in life.
Reducing abortions has nothing to do with “saving lives.” If it did, why do anti-abortion fanatics bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors? And making abortion illegal did not stop abortions from happening – it just made them humiliating, unsafe, and often fatal for women. An estimated one million women had illegal abortions annually before the procedure was legalized in 1973, directly resulting in the deaths of 5,000-10,000 women every year.
The real goal of the “pro-life” movement is to restore what they call “traditional family values,” which means forcing women back into the home to perform countless hours of free domestic labor. It is relegating women to second-class status without the freedom to determine our own destinies.
The attacks on women’s abortion rights are part of a general offensive by the ruling class against the gains of the progressive movements of the 1960s. By undermining the victories of the women’s liberation, civil rights, and labor movements – such as abortion rights, Affirmative Action, and Social Security – the ruling class hopes to lower ordinary people’s expectations in life and drive all workers’ living standards down.
This is why defending abortion rights is a key part of defending all the gains the working class and oppressed people have achieved through struggle. To defend abortion rights effectively, the women’s movement must link up with all movements of workers, people of color, LGBT people, and the anti-war movement because all our struggles are connected.
For all women to truly have the right to choose, abortions must be free, accessible, and available on demand. We need to also fight for free accessible birth control, scientific sex education (as opposed to proven-to-fail abstinence-only education), as well as free childcare, paid parental leave from work, equal pay for equal work, and a $500/week minimum income for the unemployed and those caring for children, the elderly, or the disabled.
Bush claims the November election gave him a mandate to implement his conservative social agenda. But in reality, only 60% of eligible voters voted in 2004, meaning only 30% of eligible voters actually voted for him. The more Republicans and Christian fundamentalists attack women’s rights, the more the true “moral majority” will mobilize to stop them.
The huge, 1.15 million-strong march on Washington for abortion rights on April 25, 2004 was just a taste of our collective strength. If we keep organizing massive, militant protests, Bush doesn’t stand a chance.