By Ann Montague
The Women’s March, the largest coalition of women’s rights groups and private foundations, has turned almost totally to raising money for the upcoming elections. The militancy and activism is only coming from local organizations.
In 2022, we can expect abortion rights activists to fight back and gear up for direct action. There is an overwhelming feeling of foreboding that the coming Supreme Court decision will gut abortion rights in the U.S. It is tempting to give up or look towards the disempowering work of turning to Democrats who have historically never even codified Roe v. Wade into federal law. Anyone who is paying attention knows they have continued to annually renew the Hyde Amendment which denies Medicaid coverage for abortion.
As the Supreme Court deliberates on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, there seems to be no massive, unified national movement demanding the right to abortion. The case against the Jackson Women’s Health Organization could reshape abortion law for U.S. women. The one restriction that is being most closely watched is the 15-week abortion ban. This would be the first pre-viability abortion ban upheld by the Supreme Court. The important Roe v. Wade decision created the precedent that states cannot outlaw abortion prior to viability, which is generally 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. This decision, coming in the spring, could overturn Roe v. Wade and unleash a tsunami of states imposing a slew of more restrictive laws.
Activists in some areas of the country are not just sitting around waiting for the Supreme Court or relying on politicians with a history of betrayal. Local organizers in New York City and Chicago are gearing up.
New York City for Abortion Rights has been organizing direct abortion clinic defense for over a decade. They are looking to action which departs from the non-confrontational tactics of most feminist organizations. Lizzie Chadbourne, a member of NYC For Abortion Rights told Truthout that she sees the biggest threats to the abortion rights movement as “a lack of mobilization, education and energy on the left and the effort of the anti-abortion groups who are co-opting progressive ideas and language to further their objectives.” She gives examples like the Susan B. Anthony List and Feminists for Life, who insist abortion represents a failure of society to support women and families. They have moved from fire and brimstone to sleek websites created to mimic the look of Planned Parenthood.
While anti-abortion activists have been working to overturn Roe, many women have been deceived into working to elect Democratic politicians, who then coerce them to demobilize from activism which is independent of the party machine.
Anne Rumberger, an NYC activist, emphasizes that affluent women will continue to access safe abortion care, but the working class will continue to resort to unsafe abortions just like before Roe. The fear of activists is compounded by the fact that the large women’s rights organizations like National Organization for Women (NOW), NARAL Pro-Chioce America and the political arm of Planned Parenthood, are all allying themselves with the Democratic Party, instead of mobilizing their grassroots organizations across the country.
Activist Lisa Loew, a member of Chicago for Abortion Rights, says, “We know we cannot depend on any politicians to rescue us, or any Supreme Court Justice. The Supreme Court does not exist in a vacuum. If the feminists of Argentina, Mexico and Ireland can have ongoing mobilizations of millions of supporters in the streets calling to decriminalize abortion, so can we.”
The Global Attack On Abortion Rights
Throughout the world, in countries where abortion rights had existed, women are seeing a rise in restrictions. In many industrialized countries, the ruling class is concerned with declining birth rates. The oppression of women is always in some way related to the economy and The Wall Street Journal states it clearly, “Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both.” The concern about replacing workers means women lose their rights.
We have seen historically how this relates to women’s right to abortion. The Soviet Union was the first country to legalize abortion because they said that abortion was widespread, illegal and dangerous. They instituted safe, free, legal abortions in 1920. But it was outlawed again by Stalin in 1936. Official documents cite the need for “repopulation” after years of war. They emphasize doubling the budget for childcare and maternity hospitals. Stalin stated, “We need men. The Soviet woman has the same rights as a man, but that does not free her from a great and honorable duty which nature has given her.” Women complained, abortions continued, but it was not again free and legal until 1955. In 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a demographic crisis. He increased monthly allowances for each child and a bonus of $12,500 for a second birth or adoption. In 2011, restrictions on abortion were again implemented because of declining population. Even the Russian Orthodox Church uses the demographic argument. “If we can cut the numbers of abortions in half, we would have stable and powerful population growth”.
In her book, “Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work” Jenny Brown details countries around the world that are restricting abortion as a way to force women back into the home to raise children. Often this is referred to as the reproduction of labor power. Women experience it as part of the capitalist system that uses women as a reserve army of labor, depending on the needs of the economy.
Today, women around the world are experiencing the restriction of abortion as one way of controlling them. In her book, Brown shows how this is happening in Japan, Turkey, Russia, Germany, France, and Sweden.
In the United States, the ruling class is not as open about concerns with the low birth rate. In France and Sweden, they openly talk about demographic concerns but they also speak of extending paid parental leave and free public childcare along with a comprehensive national health system. But in the U.S., they would have to say they have concerns about the birth rate so they are going to make abortions harder to get, make birth control expensive, keep sex education out of the schools, and continue for profit health care. In addition they will threaten to prosecute women suspected of aborting their pregnancies themselves.
When you add the coming pressures on women to fulfill their role of replacing future generations of workers as well as the current attacks on bodily autonomy it is clear we need a militant movement which can continue after the Supreme Court decision and well into the future.
The Socialist Action Women’s Liberation group meets monthly and is currently reading Jenny Brown’s book “Birth Strike”. If you are interested in joining the discussion Join us: firstname.lastname@example.org