Apparently, the Democrats in Congress are not only perfectly happy to work with Republicans on bank bailouts – they are also willing to work with the Republicans to further erode the right of working-class women to decide if they want to have children or not.

In both the House and the Senate’s health care “reform” bills there is very clear language stating that federal funds cannot be used to subsidize abortions.

The House has already passed legislation with an amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D – MI), working closely with other Democrats as well as Republicans, which completely eliminates the ability for abortion to be covered by any future public option plans or in any publicly subsidized private plans. In effect, the so-called pro-choice Democrats are saying that the choice of free, legal abortion is only for women who can afford to pay out of pocket!

The bill passed by the Senate contains only slightly less restrictive language. Again this was initiated by a Democrat, Ben Nelson (D – NE). This is a good lesson for those who continue to argue that the Democrats are “pro-choice” or support women’s rights in any way other than words. One argument used by Democrats for enacting this language was the passing of the “Hyde Amendment” in 1976, which banned the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. History shows that the Democrats had their fingerprints all over that legislation, too. It was passed by a Democratic Party-controlled Congress under the urging of Democratic Party presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter.

This is hardly a surprise. Democrats from “anti-abortion areas” of the country are more than willing to allow anti-abortion legislation to pass, as long as it will help them remain in office. They have not built any mass mobilizations as legislation has been passed and Supreme Court decisions have slowly eroded the rights of women to obtain safe and legal abortions.

One need only look at the history of the struggle for women’s rights to see how crucial this issue is to working-class women. The first anti-abortion laws were passed in the mid-19th century, when, (not coincidentally) the movements for women’s rights, women’s suffrage, and changes in gender roles were on the rise. Capitalism needed the political subordination of women because it benefited from women acting as free labor in the home, operating as free child care for a new generation of workers. The lack of access to birth control was – and is – a convenient way to keep women relegated to this role. While rich and middle-class women have always had abortions available to them no matter what laws are on the books, working and poor women who are denied access to legal abortions are often forced to choose between having an unwanted child and subjecting themselves to a dangerous, often fatal, procedure.

Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term in the poorest communities ensures the cycle of poverty and dependence on the pittance provided by welfare will continue.

With Democrats like Nelson leading the charge against abortion rights, and other Democrats wringing their hands and begging for “compromise,” their dysfunction as a political organization that represents the rights of working class women becomes only too apparent. They are not a party of the working class and are not capable of becoming one. To defend the hard-won democratic rights of women and to demand a program of first class accessible health care, child care, equal wages, and education rights, we need to create a working-class political alternative to challenge the Democrats and Republicans.

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