Alarm over the future of reproductive rights is at a fever pitch in the USA. Attacks abound on state and federal levels. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s decision to retire has raised the threat that Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, will be overturned. Trump has already announced his top picks for the vacant position — a veritable who’s who of hard-right jurists.
The stakes are high. Regardless of legal status, women will seek ways to end unwanted pregnancies. The question is whether the procedure is safe and medically sound, or dangerous and holding the threat of criminal prosecution.
Current assaults. The White House, federal courts and state legislatures are working overtime to demolish what remains of reproductive choice. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to an Arkansas law that effectively bans medication-based abortions. That means women will need to go to Little Rock for a surgical abortion. In June, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Phillips refused to block a law that severely impacts access to abortion medications across Missouri. That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California law that required anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” to post signs declaring they did not provide a full range of reproductive care.
One of Trump’s first acts as president was to reinstate the international gag rule. It bans any non-profit group working in other countries and receiving federal funding from even discussing abortion. In March, Trump upped the ante by threatening a domestic gag rule.
In April, the White House announced intentions to shift the content of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program to abstinence-only. Immigrant youth are also being targeted. According to the International Business Times, Scott Lloyd, a long-time abortion foe and head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, acknowledged he had instructed that minors in immigration detention who were seeking abortion be taken to anti-abortion pregnancy centers.
State legislatures are pushing the anti-choice agenda with a vengeance. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 57 percent of U.S. women ages 15-44 live in states that are “hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights.” Only 30 percent of such women live in supportive states.
Recently, Mississippi passed a 15-week ban on abortion and Louisiana followed suit. Iowa passed an even more stringent 6-week ban. Adding to the injury, a group of fetus fetishists recently asked the Iowa courts to eliminate exceptions for rape, incest and fetal abnormality.
Wanted: militant feminist movement. Emboldened by Trump, misogynist white nationalists have hit the streets in a far-right assault that includes abortion. But mainstream feminist groups like NOW and NARAL Pro-Choice America have not upped their response. They continue to push “vote Democrat” and “vote pro-choice” as the ultimate solutions. The reality is that Democrats and Republicans have for decades worked together to curtail abortion rights through parental consent laws, age restrictions, and bans on late-term procedures, not to mention cutting the social safety net that poor families rely on.
Radical Women (RW) has always defended Planned Parenthood from anti-choice attacks, but we have critical differences on how to save reproductive rights. RW believes in rallying the community in massive numbers, applying the lessons of the civil rights movement to educate, agitate and organize at a grass-roots level. This is what produced recent victories in Ireland, where 66 percent of the voters said “Yes” to legalized abortion in May. And in Argentina, where years of organizing just won a major step toward legalization (see article on page 4).
In the U.S., the massive women’s marches of 2017 and 2018 have yet to translate into a coordinated nationwide movement. But there has been more local organizing as the far-right stakes out clinics for attack.
When Patriot Prayer called a rally against Planned Parenthood in Kent, Wash., 11 groups came together to oppose them. The ad hoc coalition called a demonstration to “Defend women’s reproductive freedom” and “Say ‘No!’ to misogynists and white supremacists.”
Participants included Radical Women, Seattle Clinic Defense, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Seattle Gay News, Freedom Socialist Party, Dyke Community Activists, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, ANSWER, Steve Hoffman Campaign for U.S. Senate, International Socialist Organization and Workers World Party. Across the street, the General Defense Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World and anarchists gathered. The feminists mobilized hundreds to confront about two dozen opponents.
RW Organizer Gina Petry, who helped plan the event, stated: “We outlasted and outshouted the anti-abortionists. Our side was invigorated by wide collaboration and the large turnout. We vowed to continue working together to stop the white supremacists.”
Planned Parenthood leaders, misguidedly, opposed its own defenders. In an email to Radical Women, the clinic security manager expressed their policy to “discourage protesters as well as counter protesters so we treat them alike.” Some staffers made it clear they disagreed with this tactic. But the policy encouraged police to treat clinic defenders as the problem, dousing them with pepper spray. Radical Women is protesting to the clinic and the police.
What about Roe v. Wade? How will community organizing save it? The U.S. Supreme Court has never been a hotbed of liberalism, not even when it decided Roe v. Wade. But courts and legislators are sensitive to the pressure of public opinion.
The massive feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s changed the discourse on reproductive justice. Regardless of who is the next justice, that kind of intensity is needed now. It’s time to turn up the heat.