Roe v. Wade is hanging by a thread. Despite the fact that the right to an abortion is a position held by the majority of Americans, abortion has effectively been banned in the state of Texas, cutting off nearly seven million women of reproductive age from an essential part of healthcare. Aside from a spirited, but relatively small day of protests on October 2, the mainstream women’s organizations like National Organization for Women (NOW), Women’s March, and Planned Parenthood, have refused to mount any serious resistance to the Texas abortion ban. This has undoubtedly emboldened the anti-abortion right to go for a bigger attack on Roe, and they will have their opportunity when the Dobbs case comes before the conservative-dominated Supreme Court in December.
For decades, one of the key lesser-evilist arguments that the Democratic establishment has used to get left and progressive voters’ support for their corporate-backed candidates has been the need to protect Roe. We are now approaching the endgame of the “Vote-blue-to-defend-Roe” strategy. Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress and there has never been a better time to “make Roe the law of the land,” as Joe Biden said he would while he was on the campaign trail in 2020.
Where is the Fightback?
With a full-blown reproductive rights emergency on our hands, the Biden administration has done little other than instruct the Justice Department to file legal challenges to the Texas law. A legal strategy to challenge the Texas ban is important, but with a judiciary stacked with Trump appointees, it’s highly unlikely to be successful without the pressure of a mass movement. Even if Biden’s legal approach does succeed in stopping the Texas ban, the whole episode illustrates the vulnerability of abortion rights in Republican-dominated states, and the importance of codifying the right to abortion at the federal level.
The Women’s Health Protection Act would codify a legal right to an abortion in law, and it’s been passed in the House. There’s no doubt that passing it in the Senate will not be easy – it will require eliminating the filibuster and putting heavy pressure on anti-abortion Democratic Senator Bob Casey and potentially Joe Manchin, who has a mixed record on abortion. But the Biden administration didn’t even pretend to try.
NOW, Women’s March, and Planned Parenthood should be organizing mass pressure in the form of protests, marches, walkouts and direct action to force Biden to stick to his promise.
Instead, these organizations, which are led by Democratic Party establishment loyalists, are silent on what Biden could and should do to defeat the Texas law and go on the offensive to secure abortion rights. If the women’s organizations that supported Biden took him at his word that he would move to codify Roe if the Supreme Court took aim at abortion rights, they were, to be charitable, naive.
Biden came by his feminist credentials very recently, and on an extremely dubious basis. He has long opposed abortion “personally.” So while he nominally supported abortion rights as a Senator and Vice President, he was a long time supporter of the Hyde amendment, which prohibits Medicaid covering abortions. Biden only dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment in 2019 as he was looking to consolidate support from Democratic establishment aligned women’s groups like NOW and Planned Parenthood for his presidential run. Establishment figures like former NOW president Toni Van Pelt lauded Biden’s role in passing the Violence Against Women Act while mostly ignoring the women who’ve come forward to accuse Biden of inappropriate touching, sniffing, and full blown sexual assault, as in the case of Tara Reade.
Not only has Biden retreated on his promise to protect Roe, he’s even retreating on his new-found opposition to the Hyde Amendment. In negotiating the “Build Back Better” plan with shadow president West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the corporate coal baron, Biden indicated that he was prepared to drop his resistance to the Hyde Amendment, saying that he’d sign the bill whether or not the amendment was included.
As the midterm elections approach, get ready to hear a chorus of threats that if progressives and young people don’t turn out and vote for Democratic politicians, no matter how compromised those politicians are to the billionaire class, abortion rights could be gone forever. This has already begun: Kamala Harris recently coined the slogan, “Don’t Texas our Virginia” in her campaign stump speech for an establishment Democratic candidate in the Virginia governor’s race. The inaction on the Texas abortion ban on the part of the Democratic establishment, including its closely aligned women’s organizations tells voters everything they need to know about how effective voting blue in the midterms will be.
We Need Bold Working Class Leadership
Abortion rights were originally won on the basis of an enormous mass movement with millions of women moving into the workplace, joining unions, and organizing in feminist organizations. It will take a similar level of mobilization and organization to re-win abortion rights and expand access.
The women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s was powerful and hugely impactful, but its leadership had serious limitations. Much more could have been won had the movement broken free of the Democratic Party and, along with the other mass movements of that period, established a party that was fully independent of the capitalist class. That lesson is staring us in the face today. As a party beholden to the capitalist system, the Democrats have no interest in doing what it would take to win a full program for women’s liberation including reproductive rights.
Working people need a new party to effectively fight for abortion rights, as well as Medicare-for-All, paid parental leave, childcare, affordable housing, well funded schools, and more. In fact, having abortion rights remain legally vulnerable actually serves the Democratic establishment as a lever they can use to drive more leftwing voters to the polls.
As it stands now, the leadership of the reproductive rights movement is not up to the task, in stark contrast to the desire among ordinary people who want to fight but have no avenue to do so. We need a mass organization in the form of a new party to activate this mood, and socialists should be in the lead, because only a socialist society can deliver real women’s liberation.