Build a Movement to Defend and Extend Reproductive Rights


The powerful and immediate show of mass resistance to Trump, along with his slump in the polls, has left no doubt that the new administration’s sexist and racist agenda has no mandate.

It was no accident that the women’s marches on January 21 became the largest single day of protest in U.S. history, as the massive anger against the incoming Predator in Chief found expression with millions of women and men taking the streets. Trump’s infamous leaked video where he bragged about sexually assaulting women, the subsequent coming forward of over a dozen women who have been assaulted by him, and his attack on Megyn Kelly during the campaign all reveal the same thing: Trump is a thoroughly misogynistic individual whose sexism harkens back to a bygone era when women were expected to submit to men and society had no place in “private affairs” between them. Immediately upon taking office, Trump and the Republicans moved to attack reproductive rights, restoring and broadening the “global gag rule,” blocking funding for organizations providing abortion counseling or referrals; threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, which would have a drastic effect on health care for millions of women; and fulfilling his campaign promise to nominate an anti-abortion Supreme Court justice. Trump is the complete anti-woman president.

While Trump continues to maintain his base of support among right-wing Republicans of both sexes, millions of women see him as illegitimate and intolerable. The popular base exists to build a new, fighting mass women’s movement as part of a broader resistance to Trump.

In recent years, women had already begun to move into struggle against sexual assault and in defense of reproductive rights. Younger women in particular have fought back against the epidemic of campus sexual assault and the refusal of university administrations to hold perpetrators accountable.

Wave of Attacks

The attack on women’s reproductive rights did not, of course, begin with Donald Trump’s inauguration. Literally hundreds of restrictions on abortion rights have been passed by state governments in the past five years, and in many states abortion is increasingly inaccessible.

Oklahoma lawmakers are currently debating HB 1441, legislation that would require any woman seeking an abortion to present written permission from her sexual partner. Chillingly, in an interview, the author of HB 1441 referred to pregnant women as “hosts.”

While this wave of attacks has been focused in the South, it has also been spreading to Midwestern states controlled by Republicans. The GOP has been using the abortion issue to mobilize the evangelical vote for years, with women – and especially poor women – paying the price. The horrific specter of criminal prosecution and incarceration of women for having abortions – or possibly miscarriages – has become reality in Indiana under Vice President Mike Pence’s reactionary governorship, as well as in other states. While Republicans have spearheaded the attacks, the Democrats’ defensive approach to reproductive rights has failed to stem the decades-long assault. Our task is not just to defend Roe v. Wade but also to win back the ground we’ve lost and fight to extend reproductive rights.

Mass Mobilizations

The massive women’s marches were a tremendous starting point, but we will need to go much farther to defeat Trump, the Republicans, and the billionaire class.
One lesson to be drawn from the airport occupations that exploded in response to Trump’s Muslim ban is that disruptive mass civil disobedience can be a powerful, winning tactic. But to stop Trump, it will be necessary to shut down “business as usual” on a much broader scale: to occupy highways, airports, and other key infrastructure – and, crucially, to build towards strike action of the wider working class.

Last October, women in Poland went on strike against the right-wing government that was pushing a law which would have made abortion next to impossible to obtain. Rallies and marches were called across the country, thousands of women took the day off from work or left early to support the strike, and the right wing was forced to withdraw the new law. A women’s organization in Argentina that has organized massive protests opposing violence against women has put out a call for a global strike of women on International Women’s Day.

Now, the organizers of the March on Washington, along with Angela Davis and other activists, have joined in and are calling for a women’s strike in the U.S. on March 8.
This is a an important development. If the big women’s organizations like Planned Parenthood and NOW were to join the call for strike action and help build for it, hundreds of thousands of women would again take to the streets, but this time moving beyond symbolic protest. Unfortunately, many of these traditional organizations have become timid, in part due to their links with the corporate Democratic Party establishment. It would be necessary to build real bottom-up pressure to bring these organizations to build around International Women’s Day and other radical mass action.

Strike Action

We should use mass action on March 8 to mobilize for strike action where possible, as well organizing mass civil disobedience to shut down key infrastructure. It can be a key building block in both escalating the resistance to Trump and rapidly rebuilding a fighting women’s movement. March 8 can also be key in building toward other upcoming actions – and particularly toward the call for a nationwide day of strike action on May 1, International Worker’s Day and a day of mass action for immigrant rights.

The strike is the most powerful tool that workers have. When we withhold our labor in mass numbers, we can paralyze business and shut down corporate profits. For successful strike action, we will need the active participation of the labor movement, and a discussion is already under way in some unions, particularly around May 1. Rank-and-file union members and left labor leaders should make the case for strike action within their unions and bring resolutions like those recently passed in the Seattle Education Association (SEA) and Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) (see “The Case for a Nationwide Strike on May 1“). Majority women’s unions like SEA, MNA, National Nurses United (NNU) and the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) are playing a vital role in rebuilding a left wing in the labor movement.

We can learn from the lessons of past struggles. The right to abortion in the U.S. was won by a radicalized women’s movement, influenced by the social movements of the 1960s: above all the Civil Rights Movement. A conservative Supreme Court, under arch-conservative president Richard Nixon, ruled on Roe v. Wade to give women the right to choose an abortion. This was not because the court suddenly turned in a progressive direction, but because the women’s movement, through hundreds of mass actions, forced the ruling class to make a concession. To stop the Trump assault on abortion rights will take a new mass women’s movement that is willing to disrupt the status quo and go beyond what the corporate Democratic Party leadership is comfortable with. Step one is building a unified mass resistance to the threat to defund Planned Parenthood and to arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, including demanding that Democratic Party representatives filibuster his appointment.

A new women’s movement is coming to its feet. For it to be successful in the fight against Trump and for reproductive rights, it will need to unite in action on March 8 and May 1 with the immigrants’ movement, the LGBTQ movement, the workers’ movement, and others on a bold program that unapologetically demands full abortion rights and accessibility as well as reforms that will improve the lives of working-class women in general, like a $15 minimum wage, free health care, free child care, and paid parental leave, all paid for by taxing the profits of the billionaire class. This would be a huge step forward, but it will only be achieved through mass struggle, and it points to the need to move beyond capitalism and toward a democratic socialist society if we are to root out sexism once and for all.

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