The forces of reaction are raining down attacks on women’s reproductive rights around the globe. In the U.S., the worker-hostile, racist, sexist Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on a Mississippi anti-abortion law. If upheld, the ruling could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal throughout the land. Feminists everywhere are rising up to meet these threats.
Reproductive rights and wrongs. The Mississippi law to be heard by the court bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. It is designed to smash Roe v. Wade, which holds that abortion is a private choice between a woman and her doctor up until the point a fetus is considered “viable,” i.e., able to survive outside the womb, or about 24 to 25 weeks. After that point, states can impose restrictions and bans unless the woman’s life is in danger.
If upheld, the Mississippi law throws viability out the window and opens the way for even more vicious laws like those in Texas and Tennessee that ban abortion after six weeks, before most women even know they are pregnant. Numerous states are set to instantly ban abortion if the court overturns Roe.
Despite drastically reducing the number of deaths from botched procedures, legalized abortion has been under relentless attack from day one. In 1976, the Hyde Amendment was passed with bipartisan support to bar the use of federal funds from paying for abortion. The first known victim of the Hyde Amendment was Rosie Jiménez on Oct. 3, 1977. This Chicana single mother living in Texas was six months away from earning her teaching degree, when she died of a back-alley abortion because Medicaid wouldn’t cover it.
Clinics around the country have been forced to close due to harassment, murder, arson and bombings. Senseless regulatory hurdles and outrageous insurance costs have made it almost impossible to provide reproductive services to working women. Many U.S. counties have no abortion provider. And the poorest state in the union, Mississippi, has only one abortion facility: the embattled Jackson Women’s Health Organization that mostly serves low-income and Black women.
Nearly 50 years after abortion was legalized in the U.S., why is a woman’s right to bodily integrity so jeopardized? It’s a question of money and power: without the ability to control their reproduction, women’s lives are not their own. Capitalist profits rest on the female half of the working class being grossly underpaid on the job and unpaid for their labor at home, with inadequate social support for parents of color and poor families. Sexism, compounded and paralleled by racism, is fundamental to the capitalist system. The ruling class will not tolerate women’s freedom of choice any more than it will agree to equal pay or fully funded childcare.
Take hope from the victories. What are feminists to do in the face of these assaults? Here are a few of the inspiring examples from sisters around the world who are winning ground for reproductive rights.
In 2018, voters in Ireland overwhelmingly repealed a constitutional ban on abortion. The passion for change was ignited in 2012 after an Indian immigrant, Savita Halappanavar, died of infection from a miscarriage because a hospital would not permit a termination. As told by socialist legislator Ruth Coppinger, “Mainly youthful, female and non-binary people built the basis for Repeal. … It was the active involvement of tens of thousands on the ground … that was critical to the resounding win.” Militant feminists of color also raised their voices as leaders of MERJ, Migrants and Ethnic-minorities for Reproductive Justice.
Argentine activists, after decades of work, won the right to legal abortion on December 30, 2020. They achieved their goal through grassroots organizing that was linked to the campaign against femicide. Feminists held mass protests in the streets and educated the general public about the estimated 371,965 to 522,000 Argentinean women who risked their lives each year to obtain illegal abortions. Though the new law only permits terminations up to the 14th week, it is far better than previously, where abortion was punishable by up to 15 years in jail unless it was a question of rape or endangerment to the mother’s health or life.
Argentina’s “green wave,” referring to the green bandanas displayed by supporters of legal abortion, is sweeping Latin America. On June 30, the state of Hidalgo in Mexico lifted penalties for elective abortion, joining Oaxaca and Mexico City in confirming the right to choose.
There are also examples close to home. In Washington state, a militant movement for legal abortion was initiated by a coalition of Radical Women members and Black women from the anti-poverty program who formed Abortion Action Now in 1968. They called for abortion on demand, an end to forced sterilization, affirmative action, and free, 24-hour childcare. They ripped the veil off the disproportionate numbers of poor and working-class Black women dying from unsafe abortions. Their protests and media coverage laid the basis for the victory of a popular referendum legalizing abortion in 1970, three years before Roe.
Today, Radical Women is organizing for national and local actions for reproductive justice on October 3 to honor the memory of Rosie Jiménez and pressure the Supreme Court to uphold and expand Roe v. Wade. The campaign seeks to build a fighting front of feminists, labor, people of color, immigrants and youth — those for whom denial of abortion has a life-and-death impact.