Workers Vanguard No. 986
16 September 2011
Anti-Abortion Onslaught Targets Blacks, Poor
For Free, Safe Abortion on Demand!
(Women and Revolution pages)
Last month, Dr. LeRoy Carhart was the target of protest once again by the fanatical anti-abortionists of Operation Rescue outside his new Maryland clinic near Washington, D.C. Carhart was an associate of Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider who fought decades of harassment and violence that culminated in his assassination two years ago in Kansas. Braving an intensely hostile social climate, Dr. Carhart, one of the very few remaining practitioners of abortions late into pregnancy, continues to put his life on the line for women’s rights.
The drive against late-term abortion providers is a major part of a wholesale assault on abortion rights, from violent attacks on clinics to a wave of restrictive court rulings and state laws. This summer, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas and a women’s center in Detroit were attacked with Molotov cocktails, and last year a clinic in Madera, California, was hit with a firebomb. While the Supreme Court has not overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision striking down anti-abortion laws, federal and state governments under both the Democratic and Republican parties have used “salami tactics” to reverse abortion rights piecemeal. As a result, the capitalist rulers have made abortion virtually inaccessible to millions of women nationwide.
Today, nearly 90 percent of U.S. counties provide no abortion services. Thirty-nine states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy, and 36 states have “parental consent laws” requiring one or both parents of women under 18 to be notified and/or approve of the abortion. Meanwhile, billboards across the U.S. extol phony “crisis pregnancy centers.” Far outnumbering abortion clinics, the “crisis centers” have been set up by “right-to-life” outfits to coerce women to carry their fetuses to term.
Behind the war on abortion rights is the oppression of women, which is rooted in the family and reinforced by religious backwardness. The institution of the family originated in early class society as a means to guarantee the inheritance of property, requiring women’s monogamy. Under capitalism, the family is necessary both to rear the next generation of workers and to inculcate social conservatism, from puritanical sexual norms to subservience to authority. The increasing restrictions on abortion—a basic medical procedure safer than childbirth—pressure countless women into bearing children against their will. As revolutionary communists, we defend abortion rights along with every other gain for women, the working class, blacks and immigrants, no matter how partial. We fight for free contraception and free, safe abortion on demand as part of the struggle for free, quality health care for all.
In the first half of this year, states have enacted 80 new laws restricting abortion, a record number. A South Dakota law mandates that women seeking abortions undergo a cruel 72-hour waiting period and visit a “crisis pregnancy center,” where they will be counseled on concocted “risk factors,” like the lie that abortion causes breast cancer. A law going through the Ohio state legislature would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks. This would virtually eliminate abortion as an option, since many women don’t even find out they are pregnant until that time. Fourteen states have restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion, and many more are threatening to do the same.
With fewer and fewer doctors performing abortions and no money to pay for them, many poor and working-class women resort to desperate measures, including dangerous back-alley abortions and even suicide. In this lengthy period of social reaction, fetuses are granted more rights than pregnant women. Bogus “feticide” laws, which exist at both the federal level and in at least 38 states, have been used to arrest women whose pregnancies have been terminated, whether intentionally or by accident.
In 2010, a woman in Iowa was arrested for falling down the stairs and losing her fetus; she was released when cops found out she was only in her second trimester, not the third, when criminal charges would have applied. In Utah the year before, a 17-year-old girl seven months into pregnancy, who was living in a house with no electricity or running water and with no access to transportation, paid a man $150 to beat her up in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. Initially the teenager was charged with “criminal solicitation of murder.” Although the case was later dismissed, a state bill was proposed that would impose criminal penalties if a woman’s “reckless” behavior caused a miscarriage. Earlier this year in Indianapolis, Bei Bei Shuai, a distraught pregnant woman who tried to kill herself, was thrown in jail when she survived the suicide attempt but the fetus did not. Accused of murder, she has recently been denied bail. We demand that all charges against Bei Bei Shuai be dropped and that she be released immediately!
Among those leading the anti-woman onslaught are the bible-thumping Republican right wingers, who write Christian “morality” into practically every aspect of their political platform, including preaching “abstinence only” education and the nonsense that an “unborn child” has a fundamental “individual right to life.” Tea Party types who months ago spewed anti-immigrant rants in calling to amend or repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants citizenship to those born in the U.S., staunchly uphold the Fourteenth Amendment as applying to “unborn children”!
The in-your-face anti-woman bigotry of the Republicans allows the Democrats to sell themselves as the “pro-choice” party. But it was the Democrats’ health care “reform” that made good on Obama’s promise that no federal dollars would be used to fund abortion, continuing the tradition of the Hyde Amendment enacted under Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1977 that eliminated Medicaid funding for abortions. Obama has declared his support for prohibitions on late-term abortions and upholds federal “conscience laws” allowing medical professionals to refuse to perform abortions because of their religious beliefs. This year, Congressional Democrats agreed to defund the Title Ten program, effectively cutting $17 million in federal money from reproductive health organizations, particularly affecting Planned Parenthood.
As Dr. Carhart noted in a 2010 interview with National Public Radio, “these same people that protest abortions are also against all of the things that would help reduce the frequency of abortion, including early education about sex, early education about the use of birth control, availability of birth control, availability of school education about intercourse and about sex.” Lack of affordable contraception is especially the case for poor and minority women, who have the majority of unplanned pregnancies and correspondingly undergo the majority of abortions. Forty-two percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes below the federal poverty level, and black women are almost five times more likely to have an abortion than white women.
The attacks on abortion rights have fallen especially hard on black women, who are already ground down by the entrenched racial oppression and anti-woman bigotry of American capitalist society. In a climate of sharply increased religiosity, those attacks are aided by “right-to-life” black preachers and petty-bourgeois religious “empowerment” types, who recycle the decades-old smear that black women’s abortions amount to “genocide” and promote the garbage that abortion is the “number one killer in the black community.” As part of an anti-abortion billboard campaign in major U.S. cities, an outfit called the Radiance Foundation, based in Georgia, has plastered pictures of a black baby under the heading, “Endangered Species.” The group Life Always, founded by a black Texas pastor, has posted a sign reading, “The Most Dangerous Place for African Americans Is in the Womb.”
This lie is not only sick and grotesque; it whitewashes the reality that the “most dangerous place” for black people is this capitalist society. Youth in ghetto wastelands daily risk being shot by trigger-happy cops or rounded up in the racist “war on drugs” and sent to prison hellholes. Their “life” is one of poverty, unemployment, jail-like schools, crumbling houses and disappearing social services. Taking a page from the racist ruling class, which has vituperated against ghetto women as “unfit mothers” and “welfare queens,” these reactionary demagogues blame black women for their own oppression.
The anti-abortion offensive is part of a generalized assault on the rights and living conditions of working people, from union-busting and mass layoffs to skyrocketing medical costs and the chipping away of even the most minimal social safety net. What is urgently needed is a class-struggle fight to defend and extend women’s rights, including abortion, linked to a fight for quality medical care and jobs for all. It is the working class that has the potential, under the leadership of a revolutionary party, to carry out a socialist revolution that will sweep away the racist capitalist order and forge a new collective society run in the interests of the working people. This is the only road to the liberation of women and the emancipation of black people.
After the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky led the proletarian overthrow of the capitalist order in Russia in 1917, the Soviet government issued a decree overturning criminal penalties for abortion—the first government in the world to do so. Despite the country’s deep poverty and social backwardness, the revolutionary regime took initial steps to replace the institution of the family with socialized laundries and dining halls, along with free childcare, aiming to liberate women from the drudgery and isolation of housekeeping and child rearing.
A summary report of a speech by Bolshevik leader Inessa Armand to the First International Conference of Communist Women, printed in 1921, powerfully expressed the communist perspective for women’s emancipation: “The struggle for the liberation of women is an inseparable part of the general struggle for the dictatorship of the working class and must give to the final fight millions of reserves from the most backward, most forgotten and oppressed, most humiliated layers of the working class and the toiling poor from the women’s army of labor” (quoted in “Communist International Theses on Work Among Women,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 62, Spring 2011).