Kshama Sawant: Rebuild the Independent Women’s Movement! Fight for Reproductive Rights!
On September 8th, 2014, the Seattle City Council voted in favor of a resolution that called on the federal government to repeal all bans on public coverage for abortion, like the Hyde Amendment. It also encourages further efforts to improve access to both public and private insurance coverage for abortion and all forms of reproductive health care. However, to defeat the recent attacks on women’s rights, and guarantee the reproductive freedom of working class women, an independent movement from below is needed.
Nearly forty years ago, three years after Roe v. Wade, the House of Representatives passed the original Hyde Amendment as a way to circumvent the appropriation of Federal funding for abortion services. This year, a reactionary Supreme Court argued that religious protections designed to defend the rights of individuals also grant corporations the right to deny working women basic health care services, like contraception. This ruling could affect upwards of 57 million working women, many of whom we know cannot afford reproductive health care without their employer-provided coverage. This is just the most recent reminder that there has been virtually no time in history when women’s reproductive rights have not been under a sustained attack. To protect equal rights, we have to remember how they were won.
In the ‘60s, the women’s liberation movement grew side by side with the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. In 1966, professional working women founded the National Organization for Women (NOW). NOW members began organizing protests all over the country, and filed over 1,000 lawsuits against corporations to challenge harassment and discrimination in the workplace. While fighting through the courts, NOW also began to call for concrete measures that would push society forward, from child care to equal pay and beyond.
By 1967, younger, more radical feminists began forming women’s liberation organizations all over the nation. Within two years, these vibrant grassroots organizations were a strong public presence in over 40 major cities. The ideas and demands that they presented, alongside calls for “liberation” and “consciousness-raising,” were inspired by the socialist liberation movements of the era.
The two wings of the women’s movement marched together and separately throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Both fought independent of the corporate political establishment that had repressed women for so long. The more militant feminists called for nothing less than the full repeal of all laws limiting a woman’s right to abortion, as well as government funding for abortion to make it free and accessible to all women. It was this call, alongside a clear and sustained presence on the ground, that forced the Court to stand with women when Roe v. Wade came before them.
Without pressure, the courts will tilt in the other direction. We have seen that, not just with Hobby Lobby, but now with the ‘Buffer Zone’ ruling which struck down a law requiring antiabortion protesters at abortion clinics to stay 35 feet away from the entrance in Massachusetts, and Harris v. Quinn, which undermined the ability of home health care workers that receive state funding, the overwhelming majority of whom are women, to gain union representation.
This year, the #YesAllWomen campaign and the push back we have seen from women in the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling has shown that women and men are more willing than ever to fight back against sexism. To build on this energy, the women’s rights movement must continue to do what it is doing and take measures to develop and rebuild independent of the two corporate parties that have failed to push the movement forward.
While the Republican Party serves as the public face of chauvinism, we have to remember that both parties have played a key role in restraining women. Let’s not forget that it was a Democrat, Bart Stupak, who fought to insert the language of the Hyde Amendment into the House’s version of the Affordable Care Act, and that Obama went out of his way to placate Stupak and other reactionary Democrats by issuing an executive order to affirm the fact that the Hyde Amendment would apply to the health care bill.
I want to congratulate NARAL, NOW, Legal Voice, and all of the local and national women’s liberation organizations, including community activists like Abigail Echo-Hawk organizations who have fought over decades to move society forward. To win equal rights, we have to return to our roots, break with the parties of big business, and build an independent mass movement capable of waging sustained protests against all the forces of reaction. We need to multiply our power by linking this movement with the struggles being faced by other social movements, especially movements linked to the liberation of people of color.