Democrats Backing Down on Women’s Rights

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Even though less than one third of voters actually turned out for Bush last November, the Democratic Party has taken his victory as a sign that America in general is moving to the right. To match this perceived shift, leading Democrats are arguing that their party needs to attract conservative voters by shifting to the right on “moral” issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and religion.

Abortion especially has come forward as an issue Democrats are ready to compromise on, after party officials recently expressed a willingness to invite anti-abortionists into the party and suggested Democrats de-emphasize their pro-choice position in election campaigns.

In late January, Sen. Hillary Clinton angered her pro-choice supporters by trying to find “common ground” with religious abortion opponents. She praised their unrealistic campaign for teen abstinence as a way to reduce the number of abortions performed, and said she respects their strong (read: fanatical) beliefs (New York Times, 1/25/05). With slight reservations, Clinton has also been willing to support conservative attacks on abortion access such as the misnamed partial-birth abortion ban as well as parental consent laws for teen abortions.

These comments, and the mood of the Democratic Party leadership in general, are in reality a capitulation to the far right, emboldening the sexist zealots who want abortion outlawed altogether. By accepting anti-choice activists’ characterization of abortion as a fundamentally wrong procedure, Democrats absurdly allow the far right to control the moral terrain of the debate.

The Democrats have never consistently defended a woman’s right to choose abortion. Often, they have done just the opposite. Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both signed into law measures that restricted abortion access, especially for working-class women, and the Democrats regularly confirm Bush’s arch-conservative cabinet appointees and anti-choice nominees to federal courts.

If the Democrats were serious about defending women’s rights, they could use their enormous political power to organize mass opposition to Bush’s attacks. As an entrenched part of the capitalist political establishment, however, a powerful movement of oppressed peoples is the last thing the Democrats want.

A woman’s right to an abortion was won on the streets against the will of both parties, and that is how it will be defended. The 1.15 million who marched for abortion rights on April 25, 2004 in Washington, D.C., shows the potential for a massive, vocal movement to beat back Bush’s attacks and take the offensive in the struggle for women’s self-determination.